An employer-aligned degree program offers many advantages over curriculum developed without direct input from industry professionals.

Much like data science has changed how businesses operate, it is also changing the world of higher education.

To endow students with the sought after skills, data science and business analytics programs must continue to evolve as rapidly as the business world, which calls for externally focused and highly adaptive educational offerings. In today’s best degree programs, those who work in “real world” business environments and have applied knowledge and experience are deeply involved.

That includes designing curriculum and serving as faculty.

A curriculum with input from industry professionals keeps a degree program aligned with the current needs of employers. Classes taught by these professionals help ensure graduates will have the skills and knowledge to tackle leadership roles in data science and business analytics.

Merrimack College’s Employer-Aligned Degree Approach

An example of this employer-aligned degree approach comes from Merrimack College, a private college in the Catholic, Augustinian tradition, located North Andover, Mass.

Merrimack College recently launched two new online degrees, the Master of Science in Data Science and the Master of Science in Business Analytics.

In announcing the program, the college noted the positions in these fields may reach 60 percent higher than the people available to fill them by 2018. Mark Cordano, dean of Merrimack’s Girard School of Business, said the numbers show “there iss clearly a critical need for a high quality program like this in the Boston-area that can meet both employer demand and employer-determined competencies.”

The program can be completed in about 15 months. It’s offered through a partnership between the School of Science and Engineering and the Girard School of Business. The online nature of both programs allows students flexibility in scheduling classes and coursework around professional and personal commitments.

Coursework in the program is practical in nature. It features real world data issues and business situations. It also provides students with the cutting edge tools needed to solve those issues. The idea is to best prepare students for what they will face in jobs after graduation.

Merrimack College Faculty and Advisory Board Members

Merrimack also emphasizes real world experience in the faculty for the data science and business analytics programs. They provide a good example of a modern day data analytics university staff. Advisory Board members worked closely with program staff and faculty to inform curriculum and ensure it’s an employer-aligned degree.

A sample of the Faculty:

Dr. Andrew Banasiewicz

As director of data science and business analytics programs at Merrimack, Banasiewicz brings years of experience. He is founder of Erudite Analytics, a consulting firm. He also worked for 15 years in quantitative analytics in senior positions. Those include director of data science at an insurance company and senior vice president of analytics at an insurance brokerage firm. He also has experience working with a broad range of industries including automotive, consumer packaged goods, energy, financial services, gaming, hospitality, pharmaceutical and utilities.

He has taught at various universities over his career. Those include Boston College, Harvard University and Providence College. He also has served as visiting lecturer at Audencia Business School in France and Bandung Institute of Technology in Indonesia.

Dr. Fotios Kokkotos 

Dr. Kokkotos is a partner at Trinity Partners LLC, where he also serves as head of statistics. He is one of about 300 people in the world who is an accredited professional statistician. He has a wide range of experience using statistics. However, his specialty is analyzing large sets of health care data. Currently, his main research focus is on the application of statistics, data mining and statistical computing in exploring and integrating large databases under the constraints of shared distributed memory and concurrent programming algorithms.

Carmen Taglienti

As the current director of data analytics, warehousing and architecture at Pearson, Taglienti is leading the company’s transition from publishing to digital education company.  He has 20 years of experience as a software engineer and systems architect. Before Pearson, he built the Information and Analytics Practice for Slalom in Boston. He also worked at the Microsoft Technology Center in Cambridge and at

A Sample of the Advisory Board Members:

Tracey Wilkie

Wilkie serves as director of Population Health Reporting and Analysis at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center. She previously worked as a market analyst at PC Connection, a project analyst for Private Healthcare Systems and a senior healthcare analyst at the Baxter Healthcare Health Data Institute.

Dr. Taiese Bingham-Hickman

Dr. Bingham-Hickman currently is Vice President of Data Analytics at Beacon Health Options, which provides behavioral health solution programs for insurance companies and governments. She oversees the company’s Analytics Innovation Center.