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An American Airlines Analyst Shares How the Applied Analytics Program Took Her Career to New Heights

After receiving her bachelor’s in finance, Xintong (Arielle) Wu (‘23SPS, Applied Analytics) grew interested in applying her data analysis expertise to new industries. The Columbia University School of Professional Studies (SPS) Applied Analytics program offered Wu the skills, experience, and connections to help her land her current position at American Airlines.

One year after graduating from SPS, Wu reflected on her time in the program and shared the three pieces of advice she would offer students and recent graduates who are interested in pursuing a career in analytics.

What attracted you to the M.S. in Applied Analytics program? 

I joined the Applied Analytics program after I finished my bachelor’s degree in finance and wanted to explore other industries as a data expert. The technical core was very practical and provided me just what I needed in my career, and the program also has a management core which I found very useful. If you’re interested in exploring additional academic interests, you can also leverage the benefits of being part of the Columbia community by cross registering into courses from other schools.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the airline industry?

Right after a few solo domestic and international flights, I signed up for a Career Design Lab (CDL) information session with American Airlines to explore their career opportunities. I was impressed with the exciting projects they were developing and admired their passion for the airline industry, so I connected with the two representatives at the session and was referred to my current team with the help from my CDL career coach.

Can you tell us a bit about what your current role entails?

I leverage advanced analytics to double down on operational excellence and drive operational efficiencies. My responsibilities include using data to identify the root causes of performance bottlenecks, translating analytics into actionable insights, developing performance improvement plans, and tracking solutions performance with Python, SQL, and Tableau.

How has your experience in the Applied Analytics program prepared you for this role? What skills or knowledge have you found particularly useful?

The Applied Analytics program introduced me to the basics of databases, machine learning, and data visualization, and taught me how to apply analytics across a wide variety of tasks and industries. With project-based experience in areas like natural language processing (NLP), I now have a taste of how analytics has the potential to solve a variety of business problems.

What advice would you give to students and recent graduates who are interested in pursuing a career in analytics?

First, open-mindedness. If you are stuck in one path, look for another. Be dedicated to what you like, but be flexible and resourceful at the same time as you never know if other opportunities are better for you. Second, try to connect the dots when studying analytics. The program is called Applied Analytics, so we understand how to apply our studies to multiple scenarios. Analytics is a tool, and I think those types of abstract topics make more sense to me when I think about how to apply them in the real world.

Finally, remember that job hunting is as important as your degree. Prepare early and try to connect with people who could help you in your search, including colleagues, professors, and classmates.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

About the Program

Columbia University’s Master of Science in Applied Analytics prepares students with the practical data and leadership skills to succeed. The program combines in-depth knowledge of data analytics with the leadership, management, and communication principles and tactics necessary to impact decision-making at all levels within organizations.