The Rutgers MBS Externship Exchange program partnered with the New Jersey Big Data Alliance (NJBDA) to provide students with hands-on experience solving problems using data science. 

Started in 2016, the MBS Externship Exchange program allows students to tackle real-world problems under the guidance of a corporate mentor and MBS advisors. Externships provide students opportunities to work remotely in teams, with one extern serving as the team lead. For the past three years, the Externship Program partnered with the New Jersey Big Data Alliance (NJBDA), a statewide consortium of universities that strives to generate a highly skilled workforce, drive innovation and catalyze data-driven economic growth for New Jersey. Students from NJBDA-member schools worked on projects from organizations in three New Jersey Opportunity Zones. The projects all had a data focus, and the students received a fellowship stipend.  

About the Partnership 

This externship is a component of a grant that the NJBDA received from the Federal Economic Development Administration in 2020. The goal of this grant is to break down barriers to data-driven workplaces and to build New Jersey’s position as a national leader in the era of big data. This grant was for a three-year period, concluding in 2023.  

In spring 2023, the final team of five externs worked on a project with venture capital firm SOSV-HAX. HAX is a part of SOSV that invests in hardware and deep technology. After investing in promising companies, HAX staff work with the companies out of the HAX HQ in Newark, New Jersey to help them get to the next stage in development. Once they reach that next stage, the hope is that many of these companies choose to maintain a significant presence in New Jersey. This spring, the team of externs used publicly available datasets to help HAX identify targets for investment. 

“In terms of economic development,” said Lori Dars, “it was an exciting project. By assisting the HAX team to locate potential investment targets more quickly, this project is one where the students can have a big impact.” 

Dars managed the Externship for the NJBDA and is a Senior Advisor for the MBS Externship Exchange program. She worked with MBS Externship Exchange program director Dr. Christie Nelson and PSM Executive Director Dr. Deborah Silver to implement the partnership. She has served as an MBS advisor, alongside Dr. Nelson or MBS alumni Ivan Mera, for these externships.  

The HAX externship team helped determine prolific inventors in specific industries based on grants and their h-score (a measure of a researcher’s productivity and citation impact of publications). They also created heat maps of the country, pinpointing spots where innovation was abundant based on where the inventors above were located.  

Said HAX Principal Andy Gollach, “The NJBDA project with HAX provided valuable insight into where there are overlooked innovation clusters across the US. Further, it highlighted the amazing talent being educated at universities in the state of New Jersey and further highlights why we chose NJ, and Newark specifically, for HAX’s long-term HQ.” 

This was the sixth externship team that has resulted from this partnership between the NJBDA and MBS Externship Exchange program. Past projects include: 

  • Assisting a Cumberland County product company by creating a dashboard to visualize commodity pricing. The end product goal is to allow the organization to more quickly understand pricing and trends in order to make strategic decisions that would impact their revenues and ultimately job creation. 
  • Providing a Newark start-up company focused on game-based training with an analysis tool to better demonstrate the value-added results of their product to customers and grow their business. 
  • Creating a survey for a New Brunswick non-profit organization to determine a baseline measure of the economic condition of a select group of area businesses (to help these businesses obtain grants and other resources). 
  • Creating a framework for a dynamic industry dashboard for plant-based food operations in Cumberland County for a Cumberland County organization to help obtain additional clients in this sector.  
  • Providing a New Brunswick IT Services Firm with water level prediction, flood susceptibility mapping, flood financial analysis, and strategies for flood mitigation techniques in a particular region to assist businesses and communities in planning for impacts resulting from climate change.  

Dr. Peggy Brennan, Director, Resource and Economic Development, Rutgers (and principal investigator on the US-EDA grant) commented, “The projects have focused on the economically challenged opportunity zones of Cumberland County, New Brunswick, and Newark, New Jersey. Businesses and organizations in these locations may not have the technical data expertise needed to compete in today’s data-driven society. I’ve been very impressed by the deliverables the externs have produced and how impactful these projects have been for the participants.” 

“The projects not only provided benefits for the organizations, but they have helped the students develop skills, gain confidence and have led to numerous follow-on opportunities,” said Dars. “The team members put in a lot of work, and through numerous presentations, they learn how to communicate clearly what they have accomplished,” she added. 

MBS On-Site 

At the end of the Spring semester, the NJBDA externship team took a trip to visit the HAX office in Newark and toured the facilities. Externs finally met their mentors—and other principals from the group—in person.  

“It was nice to have that time with the students to meet with them in person,” said Dars. “It also gave them a chance to meet other innovators working in the HAX facility.” 

Because HAX gives the firms in which they invest office space, the team of externs met the CEOs of these organizations and learned more about their work.  

“To learn and to understand their mindset—it was really good for me, for my personal growth,” said Ankit Sharma, lead extern. Sharma is also an MBS student pursuing a concentration in Analytics: Discovery Informatics & Data Sciences

This externship also presented an excellent opportunity for students to exercise a valuable skill used in all areas of the workforce: teamwork. The team was made up of students from different schools, and each extern brought a unique perspective and skillset.  

"It was fun to see them collaborate, share skills with one another and support one another,” said Dars. 

“You learn from the other members,” said Sharma. “You get ideas from different people. Because our team was a mix of technology and business students, we could understand both the sides—how the businesspeople think and how the technology people think.” 

Group of people standing in front of logo
From right to left: Andy Gollach (mentor), Christian Barrientos (extern), Annie Liang (extern), Lori Dars (advisor), Rebecca Goldberg (extern), Ankit Sharma (lead extern), Nathanael Vachon (extern)   

The Value of an Externship 

These projects, said Dars, showcase the value that data science can bring to different organizations.   

“It’s been a great partnership, and we’ve seen some exciting results from the projects,” said Dars. For example, the students’ outreach resulted in a connection between the mentor’s organization and a major organization that ultimately resulted in a new client. 

Externships also allow students to gain valuable work experience and strengthen their resumes.  

Said Dars, “These Externships give the student experience with real data that they leverage to obtain internships and jobs. It’s such a thrill for me when Externship Mentors hire a student for a full-time opportunity.” 

"This is the best way to learn the skills in theory and then apply them in practice,” said Sharma. He added, “You can also play around with different projects and understand where your interests lie in which industry, so when you go after internships or jobs, you know which industry you’re most interested in.” 

Working under the guidance of a mentor from HAX also proved to be invaluable.  

“As a data analyst, I know what to do with the data,” said Sharma. He added that he received valuable insight from mentors Andy Gollach, Susan Schofer, and Ara Varma about how the data will be useful to the company. 

Sharma also paid special thanks to his two externship advisors, Dars and Mera, as well as Dr. Nelson.  

“It has been a learning experience,” said Sharma. Sharma said that this was a special externship for him—his team knew that their work would have an immediate impact.   

The MBS Externship Exchange program is open to students during the fall, spring, and summer semesters. To learn more about externships, visit the MBS Externship Exchange program webpage or attend one of our informational webinars.     

Author(s): Julianna Rossano Published on: 07/06/2023
Tags: Externship, Externship Presentations, Student Presentations, experiential learning, NJBDA