These Masters Students Are Working On Data Analytics Projects With Special Olympics Nonprofit

MS in analytics students at American University's Kogod School of Business have unique access to datasets from Special Olympics International

Tanisha Thompson (pictured below, right) had been working in the nonprofit sector for over ten years when she realized the world around her was changing.

She works in marketing and says she noticed that relying on data to make decisions was and is becoming more and more integral to the way she does her job.

Tanisha toyed with the idea of doing an MBA when she came across the online MS in analytics program at American University’s Kogod School of Business. It was more relevant, she explains, to her experience.

“I looked at a variety of online analytics programs and I was really impressed with the platform that Kogod was using,” she says. “The program really applied to what I was doing, and I thought it would help me move to the next level in my career.”

Tanisha started the online analytics program in 2016. This year she was in the first round of students to work on an innovative new project with the globally-recognized nonprofit group, Special Olympics International (SOI).

Special Olympics International (SOI) is an organization committed to providing sports training and athletic competition to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The organization also holds sporting competitions globally, including an alternative Olympics World Games event every two years, for athletes with intellectual disabilities.

For the first time in SOI’s history, students in the MS in analytics program are being given access to datasets from the organization, using their capstone project to analyze SOI's datasets and provide predictive analytical models for the organization.

"I believe that you can use data not just for profit but for social change."

For Tanisha, the partnership has helped her and her colleagues in the program see the benefits of data analytics skills first-hand.

“Since I work in the nonprofit space, I really wanted to see how data would work in a real-life environment,” she notes. “I believe that you can use data not just for profit but for social change, and I thought it was very unique that Kogod would give us the opportunity to do that.”

Tanisha, who works for the Salvation Army, believes that increased connection between business students and the nonprofit world can be hugely beneficial for both parties.

“Usually, when you’re in a business program and you’re searching for what path your career is going to take, a lot of people don’t consider nonprofits,” she says. “Giving students exposure while in school to nonprofit data would open their eyes to different opportunities.”

Tanisha adds that managing her role with The Salvation Army alongside her degree has been challenging. But, she is now able to apply a lot of what she is learning on a daily basis.

“My analyzing of data—and how I see the data that I use daily—is different now, and that’s because of the MS Analytics program at Kogod School of Business,” she explains.

Derrick Cogburn, executive director of the America University’s Institute on Disability and Public Policy (IDPP), adds that the Healthy Athletes System—the database used by SOI—has become the largest dataset in the world on the health of persons with intellectual disabilities.  

The partnership between American University’s Kogod School of Business and Special Olympics International also extends beyond the business school, into a “broader and deeper collaboration with SOI across campus,” Derrick says.

“This partnership gives our students an immersive, real-world experience, providing problem-solving recommendations and advice to Special Olympics International based on their team-based analysis of this data.”