Training the Next Generation of Data Leaders: The Data Intelligence Project

By Deb Seys

Published on July 22, 2021

Alation has a big vision: to empower a curious and rational world. Our platform combines data insights with human intelligence in pursuit of this mission.

In the fall of 2019, Alation brought this mission to higher education. Susannah Barnes, an Alation customer and senior data governance specialist at American Family Insurance, introduced our team to faculty at the School of Information Studies of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee (UWM-SOIS), her alma mater.

Thus began a discussion — and ultimately a collaboration — between Alation and the school to bring this vision into an academic setting.

Alation In the Classroom

After our initial contact with the school, it was Dr. Maria Haigh who decided to pursue the use of Alation in her classroom. Dr. Haigh is a Fulbright Scholar and associate professor at the School of Information Studies since 2011. When Dr. Haigh saw the software in use, she realized Alation was a promising platform for bringing these assignments to life. She saw that Alation could help students accomplish four course objectives:

  • Learn how data is structured and can be organized

  • Learn how to work with data

  • Share investigations

  • Conduct analysis and produce results

Our partnership began. We established a philanthropic working relationship with UWM-SOIS and provided Dr. Haigh with an instance of Alation. We collaborated on the design of the catalog for the classroom and crafted an educational plan that blended catalog features with learning materials for the students.

Students Harness the Power of Data Intelligence

During the Summer 2020 semester, Dr. Haigh utilized Alation to teach the first ‘Intro to Databases’ course. This course called on the students to utilize the catalog to find and query sample data, and then to publish results into articles on the site.

Additional classes have followed this past year and continue on this summer. For the course, ‘Big Data and Society’, we loaded publicly available COVID-19 data into the catalog for student use and investigation. With ‘Organizational Informatics’ we empowered a discussion on the growth of the use of data in the enterprise.

Students gained practical data management skills, which are growing in demand at future-forward companies all over the world. They learned how to glean insights from data and communicate those insights with their peers; importantly, they also learned why many organizations are seeking to create a data culture to drive data-based decision making.

“The Data Intelligence Project has enabled hundreds of students to learn and conduct data-based research,” shares Dr. Haigh. “In these courses, students found Alation’s collaborative features and the hands-on introduction to metadata in a shared data warehouse extremely valuable.”

“Alation has helped them nurture data research, collaboration and analytical skills,” she continues. “Such skills are not only critical to solving big data problems, they are uniquely supported by Alation’s technology.”

Susannah Barnes agrees, noting “Providing students with opportunities to work with advanced technologies like Alation is critical to their development and their careers.”

iSchool Skills for Data Catalog Management

Like Susannah, I graduated from an iSchool with an MLIS. To the uninitiated, an iSchool, or information school, is a, “university-level institution committed to understanding the role of information in nature and human endeavors.” Organizations of all types and sizes benefit from the remarkably adaptable set of professional theories and methodologies that inform this profession. An education in information provides a useful approach to all aspects of collection, content and data management, as well as methods of description and curation for cataloging, organization for discovery, and the user experience.

It’s a natural progression to apply these skills to the data catalog; data management, literacy and governance all call upon crucial analytical and problem-solving skills. I should know: before working at Alation, I was an Alation customer. Now I work with other customers every day, helping them implement and use a data catalog successfully. I believe that there is an inherent connection between the expertise and experience I have as an information management professional and the path to successfully implementing a data catalog. So to me, the opportunity to work with UWM-SOIS felt like the most natural thing in the world.

Empowering a Curious and Rational World

We all face challenges and opportunities posed by a future where information and data management play an outsized role in our lives. Studying data management, like information management, helps to develop the skills crucial to facing this future with confidence. Not only do the data leaders of tomorrow need to be able to find, understand, trust and use data, they need the skills to build context, problem solve, and collaborate around it together, as well.And as new generations of graduates enter the workforce, complex data environments await them. How will they react?

It is our hope that they will react with a combination of curiosity and rational action. It is our hope they may work together to illuminate new truths, for all of us.

Our partnership with UWM-SOIS reflects that hope, as it has empowered us to bring this crucial training to the next generation of data leaders. Looking forward, we’re excited to seek partnerships with other institutions, as we seek to build a more curious and rational world together.

Are you interested in bringing Alation into your classroom? Apply to our program today, and let’s discuss how we can partner.

  • Alation In the Classroom
  • Students Harness the Power of Data Intelligence
  • iSchool Skills for Data Catalog Management
  • Empowering a Curious and Rational World
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