VITAL Lab helps students find, analyze data like industry professionals do

  • May 27, 2024
  • David Leder

The best way for CWU students to prepare for what they will be doing as professionals is to use the same tools while they’re still in college.

College of Business professors Han Donker (Accounting) and Toni Sipic (Economics) have fully embraced that philosophy over the past four years with the introduction of the Virtual Analytics Lab, more commonly referred to as the “VITAL Lab.”

The virtual lab taps into the Wharton Research Data Service (WRDS), a Windows-driven portal created and maintained by the University of Pennsylvania. WRDS allows industry professionals and students across campus — not just in the College of Business — to access and analyze financial and non-financial market data.

“Our students are getting a real-world look at how these processes work at firms,” Donker said. “We are teaching them to dissect actual financial market data, including environmental, social, and governance data, in the same way professionals do.”

Donker explained that most accounting graduates will work in a financial position, such as auditor, controller, tax advisor, or chief financial officer. Most of them will go to work for accounting firms, industry, banks, insurance agencies, government, and institutional investment companies, where they need to understand complex concepts, including derivatives. Working in WRDS provides them with this incredibly valuable experience.

“When Toni Sipic and I developed the concept for the VITAL Lab, our goal was to integrate more data into our courses,” Donker said. “With access to this software, we can create assignments where our students can research real-world problems and propose solutions.”

Faculty now have the opportunity to engage in applied projects with students, focusing on sustainability, equity, and diversity by utilizing the data provided through VITAL.

At more than $100,000 per year, WRDS represents a significant competitive advantage — one that only three universities in Washington currently use. The subscription costs are covered by student technology fees and industry donors who see the value of teaching data analytics skills to young professionals who they may one day hire.

“This lab is a great example of a high-impact practice,” Donker said. “These are advanced skills that our students can apply when they enter the job market.”

WRDS isn’t only helping accounting majors on campus. Other departments are also beginning to take advantage of what these analytics tools can offer. Donker pointed to a growing list of beneficiaries, including marketing, Human Resources, Information Technology and Administrative Management (ITAM), law enforcement, environmental policy, sustainability, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“Analytics is becoming so much more important in today’s business world,” he said. “What we love about this lab is that anyone can use it from anywhere they are because it’s 100% virtual. But we also like that it is helping all types of students at CWU. As a result, they are going to be much better prepared when they enter the workforce.”

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This story appears in the latest edition of Voyage Magazine. The annual College of Business publication came out in April 2024.

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