Category: Supply Chain Management and Analytics

VCU Alumni Win Governor’s Datathon 2017


Members of the winning team with Governor McAullife
Members of the winning team with Governor McAullife

Recent grads of the VCU School of Business Decision Analytics Professional Track (DAPT) program took first place in the 2017 Virginia Governor’s Datathon: Using Data and Analytics to Battle the Opiod Crisis.

Subhash Jaini, Sharat Tadimalla and Sam Waters, all class of 2016, and Khai Wisler, 2017, were on the winning team, which was comprised of data scientists from Analytics Adventures and staff from the Virginia Center for Addiction Medicine. Other alumni and faculty from the program also participated in the competition.

The Governor’s Opioid Addiction Crisis Datathon is a groundbreaking competition that brought together multi-discipline teams comprised of individuals from government, higher education, private industry, and non-profits together to take new and existing datasets and turn it into actionable information that will support the Governor’s goal of using data and analytics to stem the tide of the opioid crisis, reduce addiction harm, and save lives.

Data stewards from health, public safety, and other agencies across federal, state, and local government and health systems provided existing and new non-sensitive de-identified data to this challenge for the teams to explore and use.

For more details

VCU Decision Analytics Students to Compete in Governor’s Workforce Innovation Datathon Finals

Congrats and best wishes to Diya Abraham, Subhash Jaini, Garima Oza, Praveen Sreepuram and Khai Wisler, Decision Analytics Program, Department of Supply Chain Management and Analytics, School of Business. The Decision Analytics students formed a team that is one of five finalists for the Governor’s Workforce Innovation Datathon Challenge.

From left: Garma Oza, Diya Abraham, Gov. Terry MuAuliffe, Praveen Sreepuram, Khai Wisler and Subhash Jaini.
From left: Garma Oza, Diya Abraham, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Praveen Sreepuram, Khai Wisler and Subhash Jaini.

In August, the team faced off against 16 teams from across the state in the two-day live analytics challenge. The teams had two days to take a new, highly enriched and curated Jobs Demand dataset and turn it into actionable information to support the governor’s goal of filling the more than 250,000 open jobs in Virginia’s postindustrial service economy.

Five teams from various businesses and professional organizations, including the VCU students, were selected to move to the pitching and judging round, which will happen Sept. 7.

Two of the other top five teams have direct connections to the School of Business’ Masters of Decision Analytics professional track program. Spenser Ferguson, Class of 2016, is on one of the final teams and Bill Cannell, an adjunct professor, is on the defending champion VDOT team.

Decision Analytics Program Named Finalist for RichTech Awards

On Thursday, April 7, RichTech, Richmond’ Technology Council announced the VCU School of Business Decision Analytics Program as an awards finalist in this Innovation in Education category.

Stephen Custer, Ph.D., program founder and faculty advisor, says, “This is a tribute to the faculty, staff and Advisory Board that worked to make a concept a reality and continue to maintain and improve the program. It’s also recognition of the outstanding students who are the heart of the program.”

The Decision Analytics program started two years ago and has drawn students from a wide variety of academic backgrounds with an interest in the growing field of analytics. Almost 75% of the program’s first cohort, the Class of 2016, have already reported positive career changes, such as promotions and raises, since starting the program. They will graduate in May.

RichTech, Richmond’s Technology Council, is a member-driven association of businesses and organizations working together to ensure the continued growth of central Virginia’s dynamic technology-based economy. RichTech supports the growth of existing technology industries and identifies Greater Richmond as the location of choice for new and emerging technology companies.

The award winners, chosen from among the finalists, will be announced at the RichTech Gala on May 11. For a complete list of finalists and more information on the gala, visit

2014-2015 Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Awards

At the Faculty and Staff meeting on Tuesday, August 18th, Professor Laura Razzolini announced the winners of the 2014-2015 Dean’s Teaching Excellence Awards.

The 2014-2015 Committee was composed by Peter Aiken, Brian Brown, Pam Burch, Donna Byrd, and Laura Razzolini.

During the month of January 2015 the committee  ran a poll of the alumni and student body. They received 115 nominations: 67 from alumni and 48 from students. A total of 53 faculty were nominated as excellent teachers.

After carefully reading the alumni and student nominations, analyzing syllabus, data on teaching and teaching evaluations, and reading each faculty member’s writing summary in the FES (teaching section), the Committee identified the following three individuals for the excellence in teaching award:

Alumni most preferred teacher: Rasoul Tondkar, Ph.D., Controllers Executive RoundTable Professor of Accounting

Students and alumni refer to professor Tondkar as “motivating,” “inspirational” and “a truly gifted professor,” “… sort of an icon in the EMBA program.” He always encourages students to persevere. He goes above and beyond what is expected from a university professor to make sure his students will succeed at VCU and in their future life. He demands excellence in the classroom and forces his students to work hard. As a consequence, students are well prepared for “what it takes to be successful in the accounting field.” Several of his PhD students have been awarded outstanding dissertation prizes by the American Accounting Association for work done while at VCU under Dr. Tondkar’ s supervision. Well after graduating, students keep seeking Professor Tondkar’s advice at every step of their career, and he is always supportive and encouraging. Using the words of a 1990 alumnus, “Professor Tondkar transmitted to his students a discipline, a love for learning and a deep respect for the academic profession.”

Best undergraduate & graduate teacher: Robert Andrews, Ph.D., Associate Professor Emeritus of Supply Chain Management and Analytics

“Dr. Andrew is awesome!” “Unfortunately for us, Dr Andrews is planning to soon retire….and the resounding sentiment is that he will be sorely missed.” Dr. Andrews is commended for his teaching qualities: he makes the material understandable; he relates abstract concepts to real life situations; he communicates in a fun, fair and clear style; he shares with the students his personal class notes of exemplary quality; he makes the students understand the data. Dr. Andrews helps his students with academic issues as well as with personal life situations, his door is always open and he listens patiently.  In conclusion, many undergraduate and graduate students agree that “He has been by far the best teacher we have ever had at VCU!”

Most inspiring teacher: Jon Hill, Term Faculty in Accounting

In the words of an alumnus, Professor Hill “is an amazing professor with an outstanding level of commitment to his students, to Beta Alpha Psi and to VCU Business Alumni.” Professor Hill is commended for the large number of classes he teaches and both alumni and students all agree that he “is an inspiration, a mentor and a great professor;” he “shows passion in everything he does and wants his students to really learn.” Professor Hill is famous for his smile and sunny disposition and his level of enthusiasm has led students to a broader and deeper involvement with the School of Business and its mission.

Dr. Lance Saunders serves on a panel of experts for a Logistics Management webinar

Dr. Lance Saunders of the Supply Chain Management & Analytics department recently served on a panel of experts for a webinar presented by Logistics Management. According to the article on Logistics Management: 


Attend this session and learn ways you can transform your transportation network, including:

• How achieving full visibility across all transportation modes creates flexibility needed to meet variability in demand

• New analytics and business intelligence can help make the best decision when choosing between your fleet and for-hire carrier

• Implementing continuous improvement can help right size     your fleet and reduce costs

Read more here.


Professor Jason Merrick in this month’s issue of OR/MS Today

Professor Jason Merrick, featured in this month’s “Innovative Education” issue of OR/MS Today magazine, discusses his focus on students’ learning rather than his teaching. Merrick writes:

I found that my teaching really improved when I relaxed and concentrated on the students learning, not my teaching. I personally get a lot of energy from seeing my students do thorough and careful analysis that helps them in their careers and personal lives. Operations research and decision analytics can have a tremendous impact.

For the full article, click here: ORMS Today


School of Business graduate students help government agencies with data management

Monday, Aug. 3, 2015In some circles, statistics have a bad reputation. Mark Twain implied statistics are the worst kind of lie, while humorist Evan Esar defined statistics as “the science of producing unreliable facts from reliable figures.” Why the mistrust in statistics? Because understanding data can be difficult.

“Many misunderstand data’s role in decision-making – leading to confusion between cause and effect,” said Peter Aiken, Ph.D., associate professor of information systems in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business. “It’s light outside and it’s daytime. That’s a correlation, right? Well that’s interesting, but in this case, just because we passed 12 hours, doesn’t mean it caused the light to come back on. What caused it was the earth revolving. It is only through better management of the data surrounding these questions of light and dark that we can begin to understand various causes and effects.”

As an authority on data, Aiken teaches his students how data management can help organizations to better approach various decisions, including separating reality from randomness. The exercises are so effective the state has taken note, tasking Virginia Deputy Secretary of Technology Anthony Fung — known informally as “Deputy Secretary Data” — with overseeing the state’s data re-engineering internships among his other duties.

Last fall, Gov. Terry McAuliffe established the program through VCU to explore additional uses of data to improve citizen benefits and state government effectiveness and efficiency. Based on Aiken’s curriculum, the internships provide a unique opportunity for graduate students to collaborate with chief information officers of participating states agencies. The students work in teams of two or three to evaluate available data and identify specific business cases in which data can be used to improve decision-making.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 3.18.17 PMWhy is this so important? Well, “big data” is more than just jargon.

“Data is the only resource we have that is a nondepletable, nondegrading, durable, strategic asset,” Aiken said. “We spend or invest fiscal resources, we wear out as human beings, capital assets degrade over time. … All organizations maintain data assets and if you put in place a program to treat them with the respect they deserve, they will grow in value over time and more importantly the organization will mature in its ability to employ them productively in operations.”

About 20 state agencies and 45 students have participated in the internship since its launch last fall. Class participants gain practical experience using data to drive re-engineering. At the end of the semester, participating CIOs have concrete examples of how to make better use of data to provide innovative and less costly services to citizens.

For example, Aiken cites one agency that works with endangered children. Agency workers would go to homes with an 80-point checklist to evaluate specific cases. The VCU interns tested the variables to see how much impact each had.

“This team did a phenomenal job, determining [which] data collected had little or no impact on the cases,” Aiken said. “By getting rid of the data that’s in the way, we can concentrate on those aspects of the case that are really important. Separating correlation from causality. In the future, it will be easier to separate urgent from routine cases, permitting this agency to better allocate resources according to its mission.

“Once we have that type of a result, we can now package these results for other classes permitting increased analysis,” Aiken said. “The hope is that we can expand this program to other universities.”

Certainly the program benefits both the state and its students.

“We estimate that total agency benefits [include] permitting specialists to process more cases, focus more time on investigative work or reduce the paperwork requirements,” Fung said.

Benjamin Siegel has gotten so much out of the internship that he is now in his third semester of the program.

“Supplementing my textbook learning has increased my ability to meet prospective employer requirements,” said Siegel, an Army veteran who is pursuing a master’s degree in information systems. “I’ve grown by working on a real-world problem. I’m working with real-world people, with real-world problems and real-world deadlines. It motivates me to find the best possible solution because the outcome isn’t only a grade but the implementation of a solution I helped to create.”

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While typically information systems students apply for the internship course, it’s open to any graduate student in the School of Business. The course does not require students to have an information systems background, but it does require a background in data. Aiken said the program has attracted students from just about every School of Business department, such as accounting, finance and logistics. Moreover, he sees such a future for data analysis that he’s proposing a data course for all business undergraduates and collaborating with Jeff South, associate professor in the Robertson School of Media and Culture, on a possible interdisciplinary project with students from both schools.

“Our thinking is that Peter’s students would focus on compiling and analyzing large data sets and that my students might focus on putting a human face to the data — by using the data as the foundation for news stories,” South said. “In data journalism, reporters analyze data, find trends and anecdotes to support those trends, and then write news stories that combine statistical analysis and compelling narrative.

“It’s hard to make people care about numbers, statistics and data. But if we show how the data connect to ‘real people,’ then we can get the information across.”

If people understood numbers, statistics and data, they might care more. It’s challenging to teach statistics well, but worth it, Aiken said. Because if statistics are not properly understood, you are in danger of focusing on bizarre connections, such as the divorce rate in Maine correlating with the per capita consumption of margarine.

Graphs demonstrate how correlation does not necessarily equal causation. Chart courtesy
Graphs demonstrate how correlation does not necessarily equal causation.
Chart courtesy

“If you looked at that, you’d say, ‘There must be a relationship,’ right?” Aiken said. “This is why we need the additional grounding to go in and say, ‘Is that coincidence or is that, in fact, causation?’”

Utilizing existing data to its fullest potential is a risk-free route to better efficiency.

“In a time when government is expected to do more with less,” Fung said, “data is a resource that we can turn into actionable information in order to get greater [return on investment] and improving programs and outcomes for our citizens. In government, we need to move toward a much more data-driven culture where we can measure the value we create.”

For more information on the governor’s data internship, contact Peter Aiken, Ph.D.,


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Governor McAuliffe Announces 2015-16 Data Internships

*This release was originally published on July 23, 2015 by the Office of the Governor. Click here to view on


RICHMOND – Governor Terry McAuliffe today announced that Virginia state government and the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business will again work together on data re-engineering internships to explore the use of data to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of state government.

In the 2014-2015 school year, the data internship program’s first, 45 graduate students and more than 20 state agencies participated. Those internships have resulted in tangible dollar savings and improved agency processes. Student/agency teams have worked on successful projects, such as improving how the state prices and sells its goods and services, and more efficiently matching citizens to benefits when they enroll.

“The first year of our data internship partnership has been a success,” said Governor McAuliffe. “The program has helped the state save time and money by making some of our internal processes more efficient and modern. And it has given students valuable real-world experience. I look forward to seeing what the second year of the program can accomplish.”

“Data is an important resource that becomes even more critical as technology progresses,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “VCU is uniquely positioned, both in its location and through the wealth of talent at the School of Business, to help state agencies run their data-centric systems more efficiently, while giving our students hands-on practice in the development of data systems.”

During their internships, pairs of VCU students work closely with state agency CIOs to identify specific business cases in which data can be used. Participants gain practical experience in using data to drive re-engineering, while participating CIOs have concrete examples of how to make better use of data to provide innovative and less costly services to citizens.

“Working with the talented VCU students gave us a different perspective on what the data was telling us,” said Dave Burhop,Deputy Commissioner/CIO of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

“The VCU interns provided an invaluable resource to the Governor’s Coordinating Council on Homelessness,” said Pamela Kestner,Special Advisor on Families, Children and Poverty. “They very effectively reviewed the data assets available in the participating state agencies and identified analytic content that can be used to better serve the homeless population.”

“It’s always useful to have ‘fresh eyes’ on data that we are used to seeing,” said Jim Rothrock, Commissioner of the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. “Our interns challenged us and the way we interpret data.  It was a refreshing and useful, and we cannot wait for new experiences with new students.”

The data internships support Governor McAuliffe’s ongoing initiative to provide easier access to open data in Virginia. The internships also support treating data as an enterprise asset, one of four strategic goals of the enterprise information architecture strategy adopted by the Commonwealth in August 2013. Better use of data allows the Commonwealth to identify opportunities to avoid duplicative costs in collecting, maintaining and using information; and to integrate services across agencies and localities to improve responses to constituent needs and optimize government resources.

Virginia Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson and CIO of the Commonwealth Nelson Moe are leading the effort on behalf of the state. Students who want to apply for internships should contact Peter Aiken ( for additional information.

Decision Analytics program ranked #21









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Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business’ decision analytics professional track is ranked No. 21 on the 2015 Business Analytics Rankings list released this week by The Financial Engineer.

According to The Financial Engineer, these are “the most comprehensive rankings for graduate business analytics programs in the United States” and include such criteria as GMAT scores, undergraduate GPA, acceptance rate, starting salary and bonus, and employment rate after graduation. The ranking does not differentiate between the professional track and traditional programs.

“These rankings, which place VCU in the company of some of the country’s most prestigious universities, are extremely important both in student recruitment and in growing the reputation of VCU, and reflect the hard work and dedication of many people,” said Elliott D. Minor III, Ph.D., chair, Department of Supply Chain Management and Analytics. “Dr. Bob Andrews, who heads up the traditional evening program, and Dr. Steve Custer, who directs the ‘professional track’ version of the program, deserve the lion’s share of the credit, but they would be the first to say that the program is a team effort that includes the professionals in the external community who give generously of their time to define, shape and otherwise contribute to the program, the marketing team in the School of Business that does a superb job of promoting the program, the school’s graduate office that handles the many administrative aspects, and of course the top-notch faculty who provide the very latest instruction in a rapidly evolving field.

“And none of this is possible without the enthusiastic support of the students and graduates of the program who give credence to the success of the program through their outstanding performance in their professional careers.”

VCU launched the program during the fall 2014 semester

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Ford C3 Grant and Springboard VCU connect East and West Ends through Green Ride RVA Trolley

The Green Ride Trolley picked up residents from 31st Street Baptist Church, New Light Baptist Church, and Mount Carmel Baptist Church.
The Green Ride Trolley picked up residents from 31st Street Baptist Church, New Light Baptist Church, and Mount Carmel Baptist Church.

After more than a year of preparation, students, faculty and local business partners have finally had their vision of providing the Churchill district a new way to access grocery stores and shopping districts which are lacking in Richmond’s East End.

After receiving the coveted $25,000 Ford College Community Challenge grant two years in a row, members of the student organization Springboard VCU finally had their most recent project, Green Ride RVA realized.

The goal of the grant; creating sustainable communities and transportation by addressing critical concerns in recipients’ home cities. Observing the problem of ‘Food Deserts,’ districts more than two miles away from any grocery store, Springboard VCU choose to connect the underserved neighborhoods of East Richmond.

“We’ve had a lot of people be very receptive to the idea of this,” said Springboard coordinator Jamie Krzos. “A lot of people in certain areas of Churchill don’t have cars. I spoke with one gentlemen in the neighborhood and he said this is something they really need.”

Much of the Churchill neighborhood, East Richmond and South of the river is designated as Food deserts by different local charities and state agencies. The few corner stores and mini-marts in the area often fail to provide fresh produce and sell much of their products at rates much higher than typical grocery stores.

Referencing the man Krzos spoke to early during the development stages of the project, residents are often stuck paying exorbitant prices for basic necessities.

“He told me he once got cereal and diapers and it cost $20 dollars,” Krzos said.

Claudette Miles, a Churchill resident of over twenty years, rode the trolley on the last day of operation in December. She said she’s experienced similar difficulties finding affordable groceries and regularly faces complications acquiring groceries when she rides GRTC buses to city grocery stores.

“Sometimes the bus is packed, and people have their own bags and luggage,” Miles said. “It can be hard to find somewhere to even sit.”

Recognizing this issue, the group has started to address this issue directly.

Federal Reality Investment Trust, which owns Willow Law, partnered with Springboard to allow the trolley line access to the sprawling shopping center in West End.
Federal Reality Investment Trust, which owns Willow Law, partnered with Springboard to allow the trolley line access to the sprawling shopping center in West End.

For the Green Ride’s pilot program, the organization enlisted the support of RVA Trolley to run a trolley car line from multiple points in Churchill to the Willow Lawn shopping center located in Richmond’s West End during the Black Friday weekend and first weekend of December.

Project adviser and Marketing professor Van Wood said Ford Motor Co. executives have been interested in philanthropy and community engagement the last decade. Founded in 2008, the Ford C3 grant has awarded over $1.6 million since its inception. Each year, eight universities in the country receive the grant to support their respective communities.

Former Ford president and CEO William Clay Ford has claimed over the years that, transportation is, “a basic human right,” according to Wood.

“In our modern globalized world, if you don’t have access to transportation, you don’t have access to opportunity,” Wood said. “If you can’t drive to work or drive to get groceries or have social interaction, you’re kind of left out of society.”

Wood said the grant affords communities across the world to learn from each universities’ projects, having the financial backing and expansive professional network of Ford. While the purveyors of the grant consider it beneficial on a global scale, it undoubtedly strengthens local communities by uniting more than just a university and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Helping to secure the grant was the Steward School, a private K-12 college preparatory school located in Henrico county. Involving the students in the middle and upper school, younger students have also had an opportunity to learn about creating sustainable transportation in Richmond.

In the weeks leading up to the pilot runs of Green Ride, project adviser and resident executive in the VCU School of Business Department of Supply Chain Management and Analytics , David Berdish, lectured students from both Steward School and Project Springboard. Throughout both weekends of the trolley run, students from Steward volunteered their time to help manage pickup points as well.

Students from the Steward School greeted and directed trolley users throughout both weekends of its run.
Students from the Steward School greeted and directed trolley users throughout both weekends of its run.

“A huge part of what we do is stewardship and helping the community,” said Steward School instructor Cary Jamieson. “It’s an exciting time now that the project has become real. Our students are excited for what they can do as we move forward.”

Jamieson is currently the director of the Bryan Innovation Lab at the Steward School and previously worked as the program coordinator of the Environmental Stewardship and Sustainable Design program at the University of Richmond. Serving as director for the lab and with her previous experience, Jamieson has worked directly in planning Green Ride and other programs related to the Ford grant.

Last year, members of Springboard developed the Tricycle Gardens’ Healthy Corner Store initiative to address the need for reasonably priced healthy produce in East End market stores.

Working with Dr. Manoj Thomas and the Information Systems department, the team is also developing an Intelligent Systems Framework which will be located in kiosks dotting various locations in the East End. The kiosks will provide residents information for the future trolley lines which organizers hope will connect them to grocery stores near VCU campus and the Tricycle Gardens urban farm.

“I’m absolutely optimistic,” Wood said. “This is a great student project. They put the route together, the nature of the expenses – it’s all planned. Now they have to execute.”

– Article by Chris Suarez, student journalist

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