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Minnesota Undergrad Economics Program Prepares Student for Career in Data Science

March 30, 2018

Portrait of Amy Ko

Portrait of Amy Ko
Photo by Jacob Van Blarcom, CLAgency student
For most college students, deciding on a field of study is no easy task. For recent graduate Amy Ko, majoring in economics was a decision she had little trouble making. “Even when I was young, I used to read economics newspapers,” says Ko, with a laugh. While she admits she does not read as many newspapers as she used to, her interest in economics has only continued to develop.
Amy Ko is a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota with undergraduate degrees in economics and statistics, and more recently, a master’s degree in statistics. During her time at Minnesota, Ko took advantage of many opportunities to engage with faculty, intern at multiple corporations, and dedicate time to give back to the University that equipped her with three valuable degrees to take to the job market.

Opportunities and Connections

Economics is one of the largest departments in the College of Liberal Arts, so making meaningful connections with faculty members can sometimes be a challenge for undergraduates. Ko was not deterred. In May 2013, she travelled with Dr. Simran Sahi, director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Economics, to London, England. There, she participated in a globalization and trade course and, more importantly, created a bond with Sahi. Ko speaks fondly of the trip and her relationship with Sahi, saying, “Dr. Sahi certainly made a positive impact on me since we went on this trip together. She is always happy to talk to me and give valuable advice about school, jobs, and life in general. We formed a great teacher-student bond that has lasted over three years.”
Because of the advanced courses Ko chose, she was prepared to intern at multiple corporations, including the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and US Bank. “I had great experiences during my internships, and now I am thankful that I took challenging classes to prepare myself for those opportunities,” she says. These classes also gave Ko the confidence and skill-set to pursue a master’s degree in statistics. 
When talking about why she chose to go on after her undergraduate degree, she says, “I like economics, and statistics gives me the tools necessary to apply the economic theories to data and produce analytics. I see strong connections between the two fields. The progression felt natural to me.” Regarding her transition to graduate school, Ko says, “I think my undergraduate courses prepared me very well for the master’s degree. I already had the basic foundation for many of the classes due to my previous economics and statistics courses.”
Looking back, Ko is pleased with her decision to come to Minnesota and stay here for not only her undergraduate degree, but also for her master’s degree. She considered other campuses, but ultimately, Minnesota stood out as the best. She loved the urban atmosphere that other top universities simply could not offer. Ko grew up in Seoul, South Korea, so going to school in a metropolitan area felt like home to her—even though Minneapolis is thousands of miles from the place she calls home.

Experiential U

To help other students also have positive experiences at Minnesota, Ko worked as a First-Year Experience section leader, where she held weekly meetings with about twenty students every semester to discuss their progress and adjustment to college life and provide them with campus resource information and general advice. “Being a First-Year Experience section leader gave me the opportunity to give back and help students acclimate to life in college, which can be a tremendous adjustment,” Ko says. 
While Ko’s academic journey at the University of Minnesota might have concluded, her professional journey here is just beginning. Ko achieved her goal of immersing herself in the field of data science and was hired as a data scientist at the University of Minnesota Institute for Health Informatics after she obtained her master’s in statistics. In line with her long-term career goals, data science provides Ko with opportunities for a lifetime. “I have wanted to be a data scientist for a while,” she says. “There are so many opportunities in this field.”