Business Students Turn Cold Data into Hot Visuals via Dashboard

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – When it comes to data, visual representation in the form of a data dashboard can help busy business executives make sense of emerging trends in real-time and respond to challenges more quickly.

Creating those dashboards with real-world data provided by actual clients was the final project for 24 students in the senior-level course Business Intelligence and Analytics, which is taught by Dr. Mohan Rao, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi associate professor of decision sciences in the College of Business.

Rao’s students formed eight service-learning project teams to provide descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive analytics in the form of dashboards to clients, such as the Port of Corpus Christi, Art Museum of South Texas, Harte Research Institute, and Auto Check, as well as University offices, such as Mail Services, Admissions, and the Office of Distance Education. The teams created the dashboards on a burgeoning data visualization software program called Tableau and demonstrated their projects to faculty, staff, and other students during an open forum presentation on Nov. 29.

“In this class, my students learned the importance of visualization and predictive modeling for decision-making. They learned the software and techniques to do them,” Rao said. “They worked in teams and persevered in getting data from the local organizations, cleansed it, developed applications resulting in beautiful visualizations and predictive models that the users would love to get their hands on. Finally, they demonstrated their projects and discussed the results with the visitors enthusiastically with professional poster presentations.”

Students An Nguyen and Mucahid Sener created a dashboard that measures vehicle air pollution levels for AutoCheck, a vehicle emissions program based at the Island University and run by the Pollution Prevention Partnership, which is supported by the Port of Corpus Christi. The program measures pollutants from vehicles; repairs for qualifying vehicles are paid for with penalty monies from a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality enforcement action. 

Nguyen and Sener’s analytics provided AutoCheck with specific data on which vehicle makers utilize the most efficient catalyst system. The data can then be used to apply for additional grant funding to support the program’s objectives, Sener said.

Students Jefferson Boeck, Duy Pham, and Alyssa Tirao created a dashboard for the Port of Corpus Christi, where Boeck is an intern in the information technology department. Boeck said data visualization-based dashboards put business leaders in the driver’s seat when it comes to assessing information more quickly. 

“The dashboards that we create can be updated through live databases every day so your executives can come in in the morning, they launch the program – it’s been updating overnight – and they can see the changes over time and respond immediately. And they can access the dashboard on their smartphone or their tablet from anywhere,” Boeck said. “With our dashboard, we’re able to show that the Port of Corpus Christi is experiencing the beginning of globalization in a visually compelling way.”

Rao said the class prepares students to become data scientists, a hot tech field that was No. 1 in the “50 Best Jobs in America-And How Much They Pay” list published by business website Glassdoor in January 2018. He noted that visual analytics is a growing area of demand and added that students in any major can take this course as an elective.

Service learning is one of the high-impact educational practices. These students will remember their projects long after their graduation and take pride in what they accomplished,” Rao said.