A Data Analyst at Heart

Owing to a combination of influence and interest, Briana Schumacher has always had a curious, inquisitive mind. She recalls how her mom, a mechanical engineer, would come to her elementary school class to talk about building jet engines.  Another memory: Briana would rush in from an evening of trick-or-treating to plot her Halloween candy based on type. “Even at 10-years-old, I knew I wanted to go into a STEM field,” Briana says. “I always had an interest in analyzing graphs and finding patterns in numbers.”

With her mother as an example, Briana began her college studies focused on engineering. But numbers, and the stories they tell, never let go. “I realized I liked the math and analytical classes more than physics,” she said.

An AP Statistics class in high school lit the flame for Briana, but it was a required course during her second year at Penn State that fanned it. “That’s when I decided to obtain my Bachelor of Science degree in Statistics,” she says.

In fact, statistical analysis always fascinated Briana, as evidenced by her keen childhood interest in meteorology (an interest that persists to this day). “I would look at the weather and the probability of precipitation occurring almost every day, along with the trends of weather by month,” she says.

Data Science – A Perfect Fit

After graduating from Penn State, Briana enrolled in the online Master of Science in Business Analytics program at Merrimack College. “The online MS in Business Analytics was the exact master’s degree I wanted to obtain,” she says. “I knew this degree would nicely complement my Bachelor’s in Statistics from Penn State because it involved analyzing real-life data and providing solutions to business questions.”

Briana particularly liked the small class sizes and online format of the program. “One of the best qualities of this graduate program is that everything is online,” she says, “from lectures to exams and projects, and the classes are all recorded.”

Best of all was the practical, skills-based curriculum taught by instructors who walk their talk with real-world expertise. “The professors had extensive business analytics experience, so I could easily go to them if I ever had questions,” she says.

The scope of real-life issues Briana and her classmates examined throughout the program ranged from healthcare to real estate.

“One data mining project involved analyzing COVID-19 data throughout the United States to provide solutions that would decrease the infection rate,” Briana says. Students built a multiple linear regression model in the Predictive and Prescriptive Analytics course to help determine optimal listing prices for the Seattle housing market.

“These are just a few of the many real-world issues and examples that we encountered in this master’s program,” she says.

Favorite Courses: Data Visualization and Data Mining

Of all the engaging courses in the MS in Business Analytics program, Briana’s favorites were Data Visualization and Data Mining. “I am a very visual learner,” she explains, “and I enjoy learning new visualization techniques to represent data. We learned different visualization procedures and software, such as mapping data in both R Studio and Tableau.”

In the Data Mining course, Briana learned new algorithms and methods for applying them to datasets “that I may come into contact within any business analytics position,” she says. “Some of these methods included K-Means Clustering and Logistic Regression.”

Working as a Business Analyst

As a Replenishment Analyst at L’Oréal – SalonCentric, Briana spends her days analyzing trends, distribution patterns, and future outcomes. The job involves helping to coordinate demand planning and assisting with distribution strategies.

“I also collaborate with the supply chain team to ensure stock positions can be sustained for over 500 stores throughout the United States,” explains Briana. “The Merrimack DSA program provided me with the ability to critically analyze datasets and develop models to optimize my company’s product distribution.”

Briana’s work is but one example of how we all depend on data science and analytics for the products and services we use and depend on every day.

Working in a Male-Dominated Discipline

Briana’s mom was a huge influence and extraordinary example of a woman achieving excellence in a typically male-dominated field. But even if your mom doesn’t build jet engines, there are many, often under-examined, examples for young women to follow – including Briana herself.

“I advise women following in my footsteps to find a group of people, whether it be professors, other classmates, or another woman in the STEM field, that you look to for guidance along the way,” she says.

By way of example, Merrimack’s MS programs in data science and analytics encourage women to pursue careers in data science. “We are fortunate to have top-notch women scientists as members of our faculty, serving as both role models and mentors for students like Briana. Additionally, our faculty recognize that the more diverse our student body is, the better our program and its impact,” says Department Chair Dr. Michael Bradley.”

Playing Detective in a World of Stories

While the bones of data science and statistics involve math, analytics, and algorithms, there are many fascinating stories to tell. Stories not yet told or told in ways that bring a new understanding of the world in which we live.

“Data science always involves something new,” Briana says, “whether it be a new dataset or a new prediction. It is almost like constantly playing detective. There are discoveries along the way and results that can answer tough questions.”

Is there a straight line between sorting Halloween candy and working as a data scientist and business analyst? Maybe that story is Briana’s alone. As it should be.

But we can all take from her story perhaps the most powerful insight of a 10-year-old girl plotting her Halloween candy on a chart: embrace your dream, believe in it, and stick to it.

“Whenever I thought a class was too hard, or a project was going to be impossible to finish, I remembered the quote from Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”