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Watson Analytics Launched Its Pilot Internship Program

2 students standing in front of a poster taped on a glass wall

Kevin Kuna and Kenneth Jimenez

Partnering with IBM’s Watson Analytics, an exciting internship program at Southern will soon begin its second year. The program offers a hybrid course that combines computer science, marketing, and statistics and an internship in which students use Watson Analytics to the benefit of local businesses. Headed by Dr. Michael Ben-Avie, the director of the Office of Assessment and Planning at Southern, the program pairs interns with local businesses to work on projects with which they need help. “We’re able to suggest projects, or if a business already has one in mind, the interns can start working with them right away,” says Dr. Ben-Avie. “They’ll go in and help from the start with organizing files, constructing comprehensive spreadsheets, pulling together the raw data.” Then, using Watson Analytics, the interns compile, organize, and analyze/interpret that data, later presenting their findings and solutions to the host business.

Such a program would not be possible without Watson Analytics, a relatively new program from IBM. Watson Analytics is unique in that the program uses “natural language” and “cognitive analytics” in its operation. While other analytics programs and statistics software can take semesters to learn and understand, Watson Analytics’ program can be learned in as little as a few weeks. Rather than users typing out and referring to endless lines and columns of code, the program is much more user-friendly, using predictive prompts, easy-to-read graphics, and an accessible, clear interface that makes a challenging analytics task less so.

Notably, this is the first internship program of its kind in the world. The internship program emerged from IBM’s request to highlight Southern in a use case, as the university was the first in the world to use Watson Analytics at the institutional level. Dr. Ben-Avie readily agreed to this request – with one condition: IBM offers a free boot camp for the students. During the boot camp, Southern’s leadership met with IBM and the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce. Southern ran with IBM’s suggestion to establish a Watson Analytics internship program. With this cutting-edge platform available to them, the interns in this program are able to tailor their analysis to the individual business with which they are working. Having hands-on experience and working with such accessible technology, the students have all exceeded the high expectations set at the start of the program.

Dr. Ben-Avie says, “The students are so impressive. It was wonderful to go to their final presentations. After their presentation for the New Haven Regional Water Authority, there was a stunned silence for a brief moment, until someone asked, ‘Can we have two more interns for the fall?’” Students have also worked for the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce and a prominent local law firm, among several others.

The program is mutually beneficial: students earn academic credits, gain experience in using cognitive analytics in a real-world workplace, and receive a “badge” from IBM that recognizes their professional development; the companies with which they work not only receive the work and dedication of the students, but also the exemplary faculty network supporting them. “It’s such a great resource for businesses that might not otherwise have access to the technology or the employees to work on these projects,” Dr. Ben-Avie says.

Interested businesses are encouraged to contact Dan Camenga, Southern’s associate vice president for institutional advancement, at camengad1@southernct.edu, or Michael Ben-Avie at ben-avie@southernct.edu to discuss placements in the future. New and established businesses alike are welcomed, and Southern’s staff is happy to help determine projects that would be the most beneficial.