University of Kentucky

UKY upskills and certifies students for modern career opportunities with Tableau

Scaled up new data analytics minor program in just 18 months

Infused Tableau and analytics into undergrad and graduate curricula

Built new levels of confidence and competence among diverse students

Colleges have a mission to prepare students for jobs in the real world. The University of Kentucky (UKY) had business and accounting programs ranging from introductory to advanced levels, but received feedback from recruiters that many graduates were lacking basic data skills needed for careers in the modern marketplace. A visionary dean at the school mandated a new data analytics program that would better position students for workplace success. But implementing the program meant overcoming certain hurdles.

As a public university in a mostly rural state, UK faced barriers both real and perceived when engaging students on new technologies. Many attendees were in the first generation of their families to achieve higher education, and were later in adopting technical concepts due to lack of exposure. Along with this came a confidence problem—a hesitancy to invest time learning a skill because the students couldn’t picture the type of job where it would be valuable. The university needed to address these barriers and engage students in ways that would build confidence and make them stand out in a competitive job market.

UKY built out a new curriculum using Tableau as a central teaching tool. The university started small, with a 4-week Tableau module in an elective course, but over 18 months the program blossomed in classrooms throughout the business school and beyond. Today, introductory courses in data analytics enroll more than 500 students per semester, while advanced classes teach data mining, modeling, and management. This expansion has led to developing an undergraduate minor program in Data Analytics, as well as integration with graduate programs such as the Master of Business Administration and Master of Public Health.

I now have students saying 'I know what I want to do with my life' where previously they felt a bit lost. They might like accounting and business, but until now, they haven't found an activity that’s so engaging they actually want to do it every day. Tableau visualizations are like visual art and accounting combined to create something useful. What could be more fun than that?

The Tableau Desktop Specialist certification has also been a valuable asset. UK students can take this exam as soon as they complete the introductory data analytics course, and adding it to their resumes shows recruiters they have a proven proficiency in tackling data analytics concepts and bringing them to life through Tableau visualizations. For many students, Desktop Specialist also provides their first experience taking an online remote-proctored certification exam, helping to build their confidence for similar forms of future on-the-job training. Dan Stone, PhD, Director of Minor in Business Analytics & Rosenthal Endowed Chair shared that “the Desktop Specialist Exam has been a powerful and accessible achievement credential for our students.” When Tableau first released the certification exam, more than 80% of the students in the data visualization classes took it, and most passed.

Tableau and the Desktop Specialist exam continue giving students the exposure and confidence they need to keep pace with market expectations and develop the skills today's recruiters want to see. Dan’s team began tracking the words in student resumes and found that “Tableau”, “data visualization”, “analytics”, and “data modeling” were showing up much more frequently. “We now have recruiters from Silicon Valley and from tech companies who are coming to University of Kentucky for the first time, and our graduates are entering leadership roles at an earlier age than we ever would have expected,” said Dan.

Modernizing its curriculum has helped UKY transform as an institution with a data-focused mindset. The university plans on rolling out more analytics training in its undergraduate and graduate business courses, and faculty are finding new ways for visualization platforms like Tableau to illuminate and expand their research activities.

In addition to reaching students with our analytics program, we also show faculty members how they can use Tableau to create visualizations for their research. They are thinking about data in new ways—and they pass those insights on to their students, regardless of what subject they teach.