Insights and Analytics Lab gives ad students in-demand skills

Story and video by Jackson Dulzo

Like most industries these days, advertising can’t get enough of analytics and big data. Thanks to constantly improving software, ad agencies are now able to collect mountains of user info on every view of every ad, page and video out there. What they still need, however, are people with the skills to derive meaningful insights from all that information.

Enter the SOJC’s Insights and Analytics Lab. Founded by Assistant Professor Heather Shoenberger in fall 2015, the innovative lab — and Advanced Analytics, the accompanying class Shoenberger teaches — is the first of its kind in the U.S. to give undergraduate students access to real-world big data on media usage as well as the professional statistics software that agencies use to sift through it all and the skills to glean the valuable information businesses need to make decisions.

“It’s still very much in an experimental phase,” Shoenberger said of her class. “As a result, every term is a little bit different and a little bit of an experiment.”

Access to industry tools

The data and tools used in the Insights and Analytics Lab aren’t available to just anyone. Last year Shoenberger convinced three industry partners to give her students access to real-world media usage databases and the professional statistical analysis software that advertising agencies use.

“There are jobs that are specifically just for what we do in the class,” said Isaac Bell, an SOJC senior who took the class this fall. “It’s about as hands-on as you can get in college.”

One of the lab’s partners, comScore (formerly known as Rentrak), is a media analytics company that tracks viewer data from television, movies and other media. The information comScore captures is in high demand among law firms and political campaigns.

While comScore covers more traditional media outlets, another partner, Shareablee, focuses on the relatively newer world of social media. The company’s social listening tool collects usage data for platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Alteryx is different from comScore and Shareablee in that it doesn’t collect data. Without some way to sift through and crunch the incredible amount of data that comScore and Shareablee collect, you’d be hard pressed to pull useful information out of it. Alteryx’s professional statistics software can blend data from multiple sources, and while it has a steep learning curve it doesn’t require the specialized programming that’s common in other analytics software.

Skills that land jobs

Because students in Shoenberger’s Advanced Analytics class get hands-on experience with high-level industry tools, they’re developing skills that are in high demand in the industry they’re about to enter — skills that few of their competitors for advertising-industry jobs have.

“Our students in the past two terms have reported getting jobs as a result of the experience that they gleaned from the class,” Shoenberger said.

One of those students is Madeleine McNally, BS ’16, who took Shoenberger's class in 2015 and is now an assistant media planner on the PlayStation account at MediaCom. “The media analytics class is a perfect introduction to basic data work for advertising students,” she said. “The class gives students unique access to industry leaders, robust datasets and hands-on experience with analytics software. It equipped me with the skills and knowledge to accept a media analytics position, where I am expected to work with large datasets — cleansing, transforming and pulling insights for clients.”

Shoenberger is looking to take the lab’s skill building one step further by partnering with real-world companies. She said her students could analyze their data to help the companies make decisions about their real-world problems.

“Those types of questions would be easily answered with the data that we have in this class,” Shoenberger explained. “It would give the company a little bit of insight and incentive for them to partner with us, and also some hands-on experience for the students.”

Jackson Dulzo is a student athlete with a creative background and a focus on creative strategy and strategic communication. In addition to being a senior in the SOJC majoring in both advertising and public relations, he is an intern in the SOJC Communications office and serves as a member of the UO Club Sports Advisory Board. In the past he has worked as a summer intern for the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities in Traverse City, Michigan, on campaigns such as Oil and Water Don’t Mix. You can see his work and learn more at