Interns unlock real-world business value with high-tech AI skill

When you think of a student internship, what comes to mind? Ordering office supplies? Managing social media? How about using artificial intelligence to solve an organization’s toughest challenges?

In fact, some of our students at Southern Connecticut State University are using advanced analytics to mine data for local businesses through the School of Business’ IBM Watson Analytics Internship Program. It’s not your average internship. In addition to absorbing real-world skills from the organizations they work for, students bring highly sought-after data analytics skills—balancing the equation by providing real business value.

Preparing students for the work of tomorrow

As the Dean of the School of Business at SCSU, my top responsibility is to make sure students have the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. I try to keep a thumb on the pulse of industry to find out which skills are in demand. And when I talk with talent managers from the world’s largest employers, I hear two words over and over again: data analytics.

In every industry, the same story emerges. Organizations are eager to hire their own data scientists—experts with the skills to dig into large volumes of existing data and uncover new insights. In the U. S., five of the top 10 jobs are related to analytics, big data and data science. Data analytics are the key to unlocking business value, driving innovation and looking at old problems in new ways.

These jobs didn’t even exist five years ago. Now they dominate the landscape—and the requisite skills are in high demand. We’re proud to say that SCSU students are being prepared to fill the employment gap.

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Why IBM Watson makes a difference

The internship program started when IBM offered licenses to universities across the state through the Chamber of Commerce, and my colleague Dr. Michael Ben-Avie had the vision and imagination to act on the offer.

The internship program started as a pilot involving just a few students. Those students were able to get up to speed with IBM Watson in a matter of weeks, using natural language queries to probe the data. In contrast, traditional analytics tools require specialized knowledge of syntax and statistical methods—skills that typically take an entire academic year to learn.

Students graduate with more than a degree

The gentle learning curve means that students can start working with the data right away and learn as they go, getting a taste for data science in real-world scenarios. That’s part of why the internship is open to students in all fields, not just business and computer science.

The program includes a course combining computer science, marketing and statistics, empowering students to use their own creativity to address challenging questions. The students examine, try out ideas, test hypotheses and finally present their findings and proposed solutions to the organization.

Participation earns them an official badge from IBM. It’s fun to watch them celebrate when the badge comes through. Whatever degree a student graduates with, a badge in data analytics from IBM is a powerful statement on their resume.

Bringing the School of Business closer to the world of business

Because our students and faculty are bringing real business value to organizations in our community, the internship program is raising SCSU’s profile in the community. Not only are we a university of choice for our students, we are actively responding to the needs of employers. In fact, the response from employers has been fabulous, and my business advisory council is eager to see the program grow. We now have 13 interns, and we’re thinking about how to expand the program. It’s a win-win-win for students, the university and the business community.