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Making a Difference, from a Distance: Improving Emergency Services with Data Analytics

You don’t need to live in Morgantown to be a Mountaineer. Business data analytics student Amber Pickett is making West Virginia a better place to live – all the way from Italy. 

When you think your education’s over, it might only just be starting.

No one knows that better than Amber Pickett, a doctor of audiology who decided to pursue her business data analytics graduate degree at the Chambers College. The catch: she’s also a mother and military spouse living on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

But Pickett’s determined to transform the public health landscape using her newfound skills. In fact, she’s already begun – with a Data Driven WV project that will bring improved medical emergency services to Monongalia County, half a world away from home.

First things first: give me the short version of your life story.

Originally from Gainesville, Florida, I moved to Robertsdale, Alabama during elementary school. It was in high school that I met my future husband. I obtained my BS in communication sciences anddisorders from Florida State University in 2015, and later pursued and achieved my doctor of audiology degree from the University of South Alabama in 2019.

Following graduation, my husband's commission in the Navy led us to New England, where I worked as an audiologist in both Massachusetts and Connecticut. In 2022, our lives took a new turn when the Navy stationed us in Naples, Italy – our current residence.


Why did you decide to pursue graduate education, as a terminal degree holder, in a state you had no connection to?

As a military spouse facing frequent relocations, maintaining a stable and fulfilling career became a significant challenge. Discussing this predicament with a fellow mother, I learned about her positive experience transitioning to data analytics. Intrigued, I began researching the field and found it to be well-suited to my circumstances thanks to the prospect of remote employment.

I also discovered a genuine interest in the field, particularly in its problem-solving aspects. Data analytics plays a pivotal role in enhancing public health by facilitating informed decision-making and early detection of health trends. Through the analysis of large datasets, public health officials can make evidence-based decisions, while also proactively identifying and intervening in potential health crises, contributing to more effective and timely public health strategies. 

What does the future of the data analytics field look like, and how is WVU preparing you to meet it?

Nowadays, businesses depend on insights from data to stay ahead, improve how they work and come up with new ideas. Learning about data analytics not only gives you a lot of job options, but also prepares you to handle the complexities of modern business, where data is a big deal.  Prior to enrolling at WVU, my exposure to data analytics was minimal, but the business data analytics program is inclusive to all skill levels. My professors have been supportive too, dedicating time to address my inquiries, clarify concepts and provide valuable guidance. Their commitment to facilitating my learning experience and accommodating life circumstances has made a lasting and positive impact. 

You’re a military spouse and mother of one (soon to be two) living on the other side of the world. Normally, these factors would make continuing your education exceptionally difficult. How has WVU met you where you are?

Juggling the responsibilities of a military spouse, mother and student with a six-hour time difference has presented formidable challenges, but the faculty and students at WVU have gone above and beyond to accommodate my unique situation. They've adjusted meeting times, recorded sessions and provided detailed notes to ensure my active participation. Understanding the unique challenges I'll face with a newborn and international move during the summer, when I’d normally be completing my capstone project, my professors allowed me to complete the project ahead of schedule. Military life and parenthood present a lot of complexities, but the understanding and proactive involvement of my professors has been instrumental in helping me navigate this journey.

How did the Monongalia Emergency Medical Services (Mon EMS) project come about, and what’s your role in it? 

The Mon EMS project began when they approached WVU to address two distinct challenges: optimizing station placement to ensure timely patient care and forecasting future trends in call type and volume. This collaboration aimed to enhance efficiency and preparedness within the regional emergency medical services sector. I chose to focus primarily on the forecasting aspect. Collaborating with my team members, we’re exploring various data analysis models that incorporate external factors such as climate and population metrics to enhance prediction accuracy, which will reduce response times and improve patient outcomes.


How has Data Driven WV’s involvement helped improved Mon EMS’s operations?

A group before me developed a dashboard for Mon EMS that will enable them to analyze historical demand patterns. My team is developing a forecasting model that will consider health indicators, climate changes, population projections and how they’ll impact Mon EMS’s services. Our other group is working to incorporate Mon EMS’s operational needs, like supply stocking, staff optimization and vehicle placement, into the model. This coming summer, other students will evaluate how various operational adjustments could enhance efficiency – even after I graduate, someone else will continue our work. We never stop improving.

What do students gain by working on regional service projects like this one?

As I've come to realize through my academic journey and engagement in the Mon EMS project, the value of experiential learning lies in the development of problem-solving skills and the ability to navigate unfamiliar challenges. One of my professors emphasized the program's focus on teaching me how to find the necessary information and tools to solve problems. Experiential learning not only imparts subject-specific knowledge, but more importantly equips students with the skills to adapt and problem-solve effectively in real-world scenarios.

As your second graduate education wraps up, what are your career hopes? Your pipe dreams?

It feels like I’m living my dreams! My upcoming move to Hawaii will begin another exciting chapter. I aim for professional growth within a practice or business, a dimension that was somewhat lacking in my previous roles. Studying data analytics at WVU has been immensely rewarding, exceeding my expectations and providing me with the tools to build a fulfilling career despite the challenges posed by my circumstances. While the specifics of my future remain uncertain, my goal remains the same: making a positive impact by helping people. 

Chambers College