Stacy Zhu

GSAL

For Stacy Zhu, the Graham School’s GSAL program crossed her radar as a great way to test and expand her strength in analytics and statistics. With an undergraduate degree in Actuarial Science and a Masters in Operations Research, these were hardly new areas for her. In fact, she’d already spent several years working across the insurance industry both as an actuary and risk analyst. But Stacy likes to push herself. She likes to ensure she’s not leaving any potential unused. It’s the sort of trait she has that lets her call the insurance industry, in terms of its use of data, slightly conservative.

“I knew something more was there,” she says. “Everybody was talking about it. But Big Data’s potential wasn’t being put to use in the insurance work I was doing. And so I knew there was this thing I was interested in and it was only a matter of knowing whether I could do it. I needed to know if I was up to the challenge. In this sense, for me, the GSAL was a perfect fit. It allowed me to explore. It allowed me to see how far I could go. If something didn’t work out for me, fine, I thought, but at least it wasn’t for lack of trying.”

Everything ended up working out just fine for Stacy at the University of Chicago. As a student in the GSAL program, Stacy took advantage of the strong analytics and data science curriculum she had available to choose from. In particular, she mentions John Lafferty’s class in statistical machine learning as an experience that not only confirmed her interest in the area of Big Data analytics, but also her ability to succeed in it. Finally, and potentially most important of all, Stacy says, was the emphasis the classes she took placed on deriving insight from data.

“You can have all the data in the world,” Stacy says, “but if you don’t know how to refine that data and extract what’s useful from it, it’s not going to help you. That’s the skill that employers really want to see and it’s an area I really expanded my skill set in through the courses I took while in the GSAL program.”

Leveraging the confidence and knowledge gained from her coursework while in the GSAL program, Stacy has decided to dig deeper into analytics and large-scale data analysis. She was accepted into Georgia Tech’s Masters of Science in Analytics for next fall. When asked what she might hope to accomplish from there, Stacy doesn’t bat an eye. “My goal is to enter technology companies,” she says, “since that’s where the most cutting-edge analysis work is happening.”