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Q&A: Dr. Brad Price, big data expert and West Virginia native

Dr. Brad Price

The creation of a new program brings new faces and ideas to West Virginia University and the College of Business and Economics. But the implementation of the Master of Science in Business Data Analytics (BUDA or big data) program brought B&E someone who is very familiar with WVU and West Virginia: Dr. Brad Price.

A native of Madison, West Virginia, Price earned his dual undergraduate degrees in industrial mathematics and statistics from WVU in 2009. After several years elsewhere, this big data expert returns to his alma mater as an assistant professor in the management information systems (MIS) department and is helping to spearhead the new BUDA graduate program. 

“We are remarkably fortunate to get Brad to be one of the key faculty anchors of our Business Data Analytics program. Not only is his Ph.D. training exquisite, and his teaching is top end with numerous teaching awards already indicating his potential, but his research strengths are very strong for the college,” said Virginia Kleist, chair of the MIS department. “In addition, he brings real world big data business skills to us, given his experiences working with organizations like the Cleveland Browns and 3M Corporation.”

Price talked about his journey back to WVU and his affinity for the big data field. 

What is it like being back in Morgantown?
“This is home. I left here in 2009, and to move back now, it’s amazing to see how much it’s grown and how much it’s changed. Just to see how the University is growing and how well everything has developed and molded, it has really become the place I always thought it could be and would be at some point. Just to be here and to be a part of it is awesome.”

What did you do before coming to B&E?
“I have the most non-academic career path. Straight out of undergrad, I had a couple job offers in September, and those companies didn’t exist in November. The economy was not doing well, so I decided I wanted to get my doctorate. I went to the University of Minnesota for my Ph.D. In my first year, I had to do a consulting project during the summer. You could find an internship or you could work in one of the other departments. I found an internship at 3M working in the new product development pipeline, helping them introduce business analytics. I worked with the business development manager and the VP of research and development, and we scoped out an entire project system. While a lot of my classmates were writing papers during the summers with their advisors, I was trying to understand how data could impact businesses around the country, seeing what it could do for a multi-national company like 3M that kept data on everything. I ended up working there for three years, and it really had an impact on me. 

“I also knew I loved to teach. I got the opportunity to go to the University of Miami as they were starting up their big data program. I took a role as a clinical professor, where I was teaching a lot, running the program and working on several different projects. We ran 15 projects in two years with many different companies working with anything from healthcare data to economics of sports to major communications firms. It really gave me some exposure. I may not have the most papers compared to other faculty, but my experiences have driven the reason I do this.”

Why was this the right time to return home to West Virginia and WVU?
“I had spent about a year at that point developing the program at the University of Miami, and I was extremely proud of it. We had almost 100% placement rate our first year, and then, I saw this job posting. My wife and I had always said Morgantown is home. We met in Morgantown, and it's a place that is very important to me and my family. 

“I had met Virginia at a conference the previous year, so I called and said, “Tell me about your program, what you’re trying to do.” And what she described to me and what I have seen so far are the exact same things. It’s an extremely rigorous online program built for students who want to be in a full-time program who are completely committed to it. Whether they're working professionals or right out of undergrad; whether they're looking for a change in career or to use this for their current job. When I heard about the program, I knew the resources WVU had; I knew about the supercomputing facilities, the relationships with the High Technology Foundation in Fairmont and the relationships across the world. I started to think about how I would do this at WVU. I sat there with a sheet of paper and wrote down every idea I had, and I realized this thing could turn into a powerhouse. It was the right fit for me personally and professionally. You take personal stuff off of it for a minute for me and it was an amazing fit, and when you add the personal stuff, it was the right time to come home.”

How will the BUDA program have an impact on the state? 
“I believe, and I think just about everyone around here believes, in the need for West Virginia to diversify the economy. I grew up in the southern coal fields, and I've seen everything that's happened there since the early ’90s. I really believe you have a bunch of smart people in this state who want to work hard. Everybody thinks of data analytics as simply sitting on a computer, but there’s a lot of effort that goes into this stuff. You are digging through data trying to solve problems in a creative way, and I think that fits the West Virginian mindset. The other thing is, with all the high tech that goes on in North Central West Virginia, you have an infrastructure here and a need. 

“When you talk about companies like Amazon and Target, these companies are looking for this type of talent. If we have a critical mass of that talent, that can make us very attractive to those companies. With what we do, we don't have any theoretical ideas. We want to help companies solve their problems using data. That expands over every industry and can impact any industry.”

What do you like most about teaching and what lead you to teaching?
“The students. I teach a lot of statistics and data mining classes. There’s a lot of math and deep-in-the-weeds type stuff. I teach them a little bit differently. I teach them from a practical side because that’s what my background is. In understanding the methodology, we do have to get deep in the weeds, but when we come back and say, ‘Now knowing what we know, can we help businesses make better decisions?’ Watching students evolve through that entire process is great; watching them engage with statistics, use the tools and see what it can actually do for them, rather than memorization type stuff. 

“I grew up in a family of teachers. Public education and education in general have always been a huge part of my life. It’s really cool to come back and help public education in West Virginia. I really want to engage because you’re with students so much. You’re teaching them about things they’re going to do the rest of their lives, so you want it to be enjoyable.”

What are you most excited for in the upcoming fall semester?“Getting this program kicked off and kicking it off in the right way. We want to be the most hands-on program in the country. It’s not just about taking the courses; it’s about the experiences you get with these businesses, and watching that grow within a university is really fun to be a part of and fun to watch as your students get into it. As the students go about it, they start to make connections with the class. It’s really an experiential learning model.”