From the Classroom to the Office

A MScA student applies insight from his analytics courses directly to tough problems at work.

Written by Philip Baker
man in suit looking at the camera

A student in the MScA program discusses the myriad ways his time as a student at the University of Chicago has advanced his career and given him tools that directly impact his day-to-day work and his long-term goals.

Even a brief discussion with Michael Colella, who is presently enrolled in the Master of Science in Analytics (MScA) program, will leave you with the distinct sense that he is taking the uniquely complementary synergies of lifelong learning to a new level. With a certificate in Marketing already, as well as experience in the Business Analytics certificate and a wide variety of online and blended learning programs, he is gaining accreditations that expand his potential for employment, while developing skillsthat improve his performance at work right now.“It’s about constantly challenging myself,” he says. “I’ve always been interested in so many things and the Graham School programs really cater to people who want to learn and excel at what they’re doing.”

Locating Your Specific Area of Interest

After completing his undergraduate degree in cognitive behavioral science, Colella accumulated an array of professional and academic experience in research. Doing work that was global in nature as a management consultant working in the tech space, he worked with Fortune 100 and 500 companies to build out analytic centers to handle big data and drive insights. During this time, he also did his master’s in psychology in a program whose emphasis on the organization and business side of things further confirmed the career path he was beginning to embark upon. “I started seeing that my heart was in business,” he says. “So I began leveraging my science and research background in any way I could as I made my transition into this new area. The professional development certificates were particularly valuable for me in this regard because they were able to accelerate my development as a professional. If you know the direction you’re heading in,” he adds, “the certificate programs are a great way to locate your specific areas of interest while teasing out the nuances of what you want.”

Knock-Out Combination

From Bayer, where he worked as an analyst, to Ab Ovo, where he was a business consultant, and now at Kraft Heinz Company (KHC), where he recently became a senior manager of analytics, Colella emphasizes the value he has found in his still young career (he graduated college in 2010) from leveraging what he’s learning not only to perform more effectively at work but also to start him on his new direction. “Rather than taking time off to go through a two-year degree program,” he says, “I’ve found that amplifying work with school is a knock-out combination. By the time I graduate with my MScA degree, I hope to be vying for director positions.” At KHC, Colella leads advanced analytics and engages in machine learning-based projects, while overseeing a cognitive computing lab and focusing on design thinking. He notes that Kraft Heinz Company has ramped up their hiring of late, focusing exclusively on applicants with Tier 1 school and quantitative backgrounds. “Imagine the Google of consumer packaged goods,” he says. “That’s KHC. They’re aiming to be the best food company growing a better world. I don’t think that I could’ve got my foot in the door at KHC had they not seen I was in the UChicago MScA program,” he adds. “It speaks not only to my passion and experience with analytics, but to the high regard industry has for the program and the caliber of its graduates.”

Instructors at the Forefront of Their Industries

As much as any other part of his experience at the University of Chicago, Colella says that the quality of the instructors and their willingness to serve as mentors has allowed him to clarify questions he had about the career path he was on. “These are people at the forefront of their industries,” he says. “Spending time with them in class and getting to know them and their perspectives on the world adds an indefinable quotient that you simply won’t get elsewhere, even where you’re otherwise learning ostensibly similar material.”

Tackling Our Biggest Problems

Having now successfully made the transition to business from his early background in medical research, Colella remains immensely excited about his future. With data science and machine learning tools making inroads into an ever-expanding array of diverse fields, he foresees the opportunity to integrate more of what he’s learning into his day-to-day work and long-term goals. “It’s a field that respects diverse backgrounds,” he says. “Doing analytics work always requires you to think in multiple dimensions. You’re the person right in the middle, translating approaches and results from one area for a person working in another. What you find is that to really solve problems, communication is key. The more you know and the better you are at seeing the connections between things, the more valuable you’ll be when it comes to solving the most challenging problems. I’m looking forward in my life to tackling some of our biggest problems.”

Additional Stories