Whitman Voices


Don Harter Helps Students Understand Data

Don Harter Helps Students Understand Data

Don Harter, associate professor of management information system, was employed at BDM International, a global consulting firm and Carlyle Group company for 18 years before entering academia. During his time with the firm, he worked his way up from an entry-level position to senior vice president & general manager of an analytics group. According to Harter, he enjoyed the management challenges he solved daily but chose to pursue an academic career. To pursue this goal Harter, who has always been fascinated with numbers and data crunching, enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University, where he received a master’s and Ph.D. in information systems.

As a Ph.D. student, Harter was on the research staff for the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition. In support of the center, he measured drone pilots’ cognitive processes to automate complex decision-making tasks. The goal of the research was to understand the limits of human decision-making and implement decision-making solutions using the artificial intelligence technique of neural networks.

Harter eventually made his way to the Whitman School, where he spent seven and a half years as the associate dean of master’s programs before transitioning to the role of director of the M.S. in business analytics program. Though analytics is one of the hottest buzzwords in business right now, his position didn’t come out of simple trend analysis. Harter founded the analytics program at the Whitman School and built it up from one class to a program that now serves 900 students through courses and the M.S. in business analytics degree.

“It all started with one single MBA student,” Harter explained.

The student knew about Harter’s background and asked for one-on-one help with analytics. Harter taught him one-on-one in the spring of 2013. Later that year, the newly graduated MBA student started working for McKinsey Consulting. The lesson was clear: Analytics could place MBA students in excellent jobs, but training students one-at-a-time was not efficient. In January 2014, Harter launched the first analytics course at the Whitman School. Sixty-eight students enrolled to take the course in its first semester. Enrollment has grown since then, with 800-900 students expected to enroll in the course in 2019.

Today, the school offers an M.S. in business analytics degree and four more specialized courses in analytics in topics like accounting, marketing, finance and supply chain. These additional courses allow students to take focused analytics courses and learn how to apply it to a specific field of interest, making them even more desirable for future employers, explained Harter. He added that business analytics is particularly beneficial to people pursuing a business education in accounting, finance, marketing and supply chain as the training helps individuals perform data analysis, identify key data trends and build predictive models.

When asked about the future of analytics within the Whitman School, Harter admitted that there are many different possibilities for expansion, including new focus areas for classes and potentially expanding the courses to an undergraduate level. In addition, Harter expects analytics to continue to grow in our business world as well.

Arielle Spears