Students Explore Data, Career Opportunities at SAS Day

When Alan Kessler, B.S., Actuarial Science ‘13, was an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, he was doing what all students do: figuring out where he wanted to work after graduation.

Given his major, Kessler knew he wanted to work with data. But he had some questions about what working with data really looks like. Class assignments can’t always fully capture what data analysis looks like in the working world. The tools that modeling and analytics professionals rely on develop over time, so that what’s taught one year may not be what’s used the next. And then there’s the big question: how can big data best help businesses solve problems?

SAS, it turns out, goes a long way toward answering these questions. Statistical Analysis System (SAS) is software that generates insight for business who use it. In other words, SAS works to present data in accurate, clear, and compelling ways, which helps businesses make decisions based upon evidence.

Kessler, who landed an internship with State Farm in the University of Illinois Research Park before he graduated, started using SAS during his internship. “That experience sparked my interest to hear more about what was new at SAS,” he said.

SAS Day was just what he needed.

SAS Day, which began in 2006, is a day-long conference brought to you by the WebStore, State Farm, SAS, and the Department of Statistics. The conference combines technical instruction with practical application. SAS representatives discuss new techniques and tools customers can use within SAS, while State Farm employees present on how SAS is being used within the organization. Participants come from a variety of fields, including Statistics, Math, Engineering, and Finance. The next SAS Day is on February 14, 2017, in the Illini Union Ballroom. It’s free to attend but registration is required. Click here to register.

Perhaps most importantly, this conference is invested in students. About 140 people attend each year, and undergraduate and graduate students make up roughly half of attendees. Students are encouraged to share their work via a poster presentation session and the best work receives a monetary prize.

Kessler was thrilled to attend sessions, watch product demonstrations, and ask a lot of questions at the 2012 SAS Day. His experience at SAS Day was a contributing factor in his decision to submit an poster about his work to a SAS contest, which he won. Kessler received a trip to the big SAS conference in Las Vegas, which furthered his development with SAS. After graduation, he took a full-time job with State Farm and now heads a data team with a focus on modeling and analytics.

Kessler (pictured at left, standing on left) credits SAS Day with helping him better understand not only what data analytics work looks like but how he can use SAS to do his job better every day.

“I would definitely recommend attending SAS Day even if you don’t use SAS currently. It is valuable for any student interested in a data and analytics career to see what that work looks like and have the opportunity to meet professionals in that area,” he said.

Angela Wu, B.S., Actuarial Science and Statistics ‘13, also said that her participation in SAS Day was important to building her career. For Wu (pictured at left, standing on right), an actuarial statistician at State Farm, SAS Day inspired her to take advantage of her time as a college student while guiding her learning toward a defined goal.

“[SAS Day] is a good chance for students to learn about the statistical tools employers are using. College is the best time to learn programming languages,” she said.

Perhaps the best thing about SAS Day for both Kessler and Wu is that it ensures that they never stop learning, no matter when they graduated from the University of Illinois.

“I always learn something new from the SAS presentations. Sometimes it’s the tricks and tips for the existing procedures. Sometimes it’s the overview of new procedures in development. I can apply that knowledge to my day-to-day work,” said Wu.

Kessler shares the sentiment. “It is important to continue learning new techniques and approaches to solving problems with data. For me, events like this one inspire me to continue learning,” he said.

Both Kessler and Wu remain involved in SAS Day in order to share their knowledge and experience with students and professionals alike. Kessler plans to attend the conference as time permits, and Wu is presenting at the upcoming SAS Day. Wu hopes that, as a former Illinois undergraduate herself, her work will help inspire other students to keep learning about SAS.

“I hope my presentation can help students realize how valuable statistical tools such as SAS can be and inspire them to learn more about SAS at school,” she said.