“Cal Poly taught me to focus on my values and what I want to get out of my career.” Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is giving graduate student Iris Huang the knowledge, skills and connections to succeed in one of today’s hottest fields: data analytics. Page ContentEvery Chinese New Year, Iris Huang would save the money she received in the traditional red envelopes limned in gold. She remembers being just 6 years old and putting the cash in a cookie jar for safekeeping. The first-grader had told her class she hoped to be the first in her family to go to college. A boy then snarled at her, "You know that costs like $50,000, right?" That unkind comment was what first spurred her to start saving. As she grew up, Huang knew she had the grades and the motivation to earn a degree, but she also realized the cookie-jar savings clearly weren't going to suffice. "I had always wanted to go to college, for as long as I could remember," Huang explains. "I studied really hard and did my best in school, but I didn't know if this dream would ever be achievable because I came from a very low-income household."It wasn't until she met with a high school counselor that she learned about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. "I remember feeling so relieved … Going to college became a possibility because of financial aid," Huang says. When it came time to choose a university, Huang knew only that the school would have to be affordable and give her a hands-on learning environment. She turned to California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly students learn by leading their own projects and that really resonated with me. — Iris Huang The White-Hot Field of Big Data Thanks to a number of Advanced Placement high school courses under her belt when she arrived at Cal Poly in 2014, Huang was able to graduate with a bachelor's degree in business and a concentration in information systems in just three years. Now in her fourth year, she's enrolled in the graduate business analytics program, part of Cal Poly's Orfalea College of Business. "Before [Cal Poly], I never thought I would even go near the tech field. I didn't even know business analytics existed," Huang notes. "Cal Poly has its 'Learn by Doing' philosophy, which really resonated with me. A lot of our students are conducting and leading their own projects." In the simplest terms, big data analytics involves gathering, organizing, analyzing, and communicating copious amounts of information. "You can analyze basically anything using big data analysis tools," says Huang. "My favorite part is visualizing findings and uncovering the story hidden in the data. It's much easier to show a graph to someone who is unfamiliar with a topic versus showing them a bunch of numbers."Data analytics — a field the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts will grow 27 percent by 2026 — is so new and quickly evolving that it will almost certainly give Huang her pick of jobs. "We are learning how to organize data, find insights from the data, and communicate this to executives and key decision makers," says the 21-year-old. "You can do pretty much whatever you want with [the degree]. Big data is such a powerful tool."