Sentry Insurance presented the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with the largest donation in the university’s 122-year history Tuesday, March 8. The gift of $4 million will endow two new faculty positions and create a new major in data analytics.
The gift is the largest single donation Sentry has ever made to any organization.
“This is more than an incredibly generous gift,” said UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Bernie Patterson. “It is an investment in the future of the university and our community, and a vote of confidence in how UW-Stevens Point is preparing students for changing needs in the business world.”
A new undergraduate major in data analytics will be offered, beginning in fall 2016, pending UW Board of Regents approval. The program will feature an interdisciplinary curriculum that integrates the fields of business, computer science, economics, geographic information systems, mathematics and statistics.
“The availability of data as well as the technology to imaginatively use the data has been growing exponentially in recent years,” said Pete McPartland, chairman of the board, president and CEO of Sentry Insurance. “Employers have not been able to train data analytics professionals fast enough to keep pace with the growing demand. Sentry’s commitment to helping fund the creation of a data analytics program at UW-Stevens Point will help employers benefit from the rapidly changing world of data availability and usage.”
The Sentry gift endows two faculty positions. The Sentry Insurance Endowed Chair in Computational Analytics will be part of the Computing and New Media Technologies Department. The Sentry Insurance Endowed Chair in Business Analytics will be part of the School of Business and Economics. Sentry needs employees with both of these business and computational analytics skills.
“Being able to analyze data and make decisions based on data is a competitive advantage in the short-term. Soon, businesses will have to do it to thrive,” said Tim Krause, associate professor and department chair, Computing and New Media Technologies.
Interviews with local employers from retail, manufacturing, health care, agriculture, insurance and software development industries in 2015 revealed a growing data analytics talent gap in the region. Employers indicated they need significantly more employees with the ability to analyze datasets, interpret observations, develop hypotheses, communicate findings and facilitate organizational action, said Lyna Matesi, assistant professor of management.
Data analytics involves acquiring and storing data, validating it, mining and analyzing data, visualizing data and disseminating it. Business analytics includes econometrics, computational finance, decision sciences and marketing analytics.
Sentry and UW-Stevens Point have a long history in this community, Patterson noted, with both founded more than 100 years ago. Sentry also has a long history of supporting the university. The $4 million gift more than doubles Sentry Insurance’s support to UW-Stevens Point since 1985.
Endowment proceeds will support activities such as collaborative research, outreach and related student-faculty activities of the chair. National searches for analytics experts will begin immediately.
Sentry’s commitment is a cornerstone gift of the quiet phase of UW-Stevens Point capital campaign, which is scheduled for a public announcement this spring.