Students in the Professional Applied and Computational Math (PACM) program are landing jobs even before they graduate. The PACM is a professional science master’s degree program offered by the Mathematics Department.
"Professional science master’s programs are growing," said Lorena Mathien, assistant professor of mathematics and coordinator of the program. "It's like the growth in MBA programs that began 80 years ago." The number of PSM programs offered nationally has almost doubled since 2009.
What’s driving their growth? According to Mathien, one reason is the increasing emphasis on developing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs in higher education to meet the needs of today's economy. For PSM programs in mathematics, the sheer quantity of data available is creating a need for specialists who can make sense of the data.
"Often, companies don't understand what our program offers," said Mathien. "Any business that has a database, and that has any need for forecasting or that maintains a quality assurance program, can benefit by hiring our graduates."
Miroslav Rakic is a manager of the trend analytics team, one of four groups that make up Informatics Analytics Services at Independent Health. Rakic, who already holds a master's in math, is graduating from the PACM program in December 2012.
"I enrolled in this program because I thought it would be an asset to my career," said Rakic, "and I wanted to be part of a young program that's still maturing." PSM programs combine a technical discipline (in this case, applied and computational math) with a business curriculum. Two business modules that Rakic found especially useful were project management and communication. He also appreciated the opportunity to learn different math software. "I had to step out of my comfort zone," he said.
Rakic proposed an internship program that allowed students to work in Informatics Analytics Services at Independent Health last summer. Of three interns who took part in it, two are now employed there. One of the two, Raul Del Hierro, is responsible for assisting with corporate financial trend reports; the other, Michelle Rua, is a fraud and abuse analyst. (The third intern returned to teaching.)
Rua was surprised to learn the breadth of opportunities available in the health insurance industry. "Many different teams need mathematicians for analysis, forecasting, and other statistical procedures," she said.
Rua said that the internship was extremely useful, in part because it was very meaningful, thanks to the program’s requirements and Rakic's interest in developing talented people. "The internship gave me a lot of confidence when it was time to look for a job," she said.
Mathien explained that mathematicians know how to pull meaningful information from a database. "Spreadsheets are very limited," she said. "But if you can write a program to extract information, or create a model for forecasting, you can develop ways to make sense out of data using many complex variables. It’s much more like a real-world scenario."