A major draw to applicants of Virginia Tech’s Pamplin Center of Business Intelligence and Analytics program is its use of projects that deal with real-world problems and data sets. Students in this MSBA program are connected with clients, the Center’s corporate sponsors, and over the course of the school year identify, analyze, and propose solutions for real-world problems locally and nationally. One of the most successful corporate partnerships in the Center’s MSBA program has been with Leidos, an information technology, science, and engineering company based in Reston, Virginia. 

The bond between Leidos and CBIA began at the program’s inception back in 2017. Leidos’ willingness and eagerness to partner with CBIA is rooted in their company philosophy to support student research, according to Leidos Chief Scientist Julie Rosen. “It’s imperative for Leidos, as a company, and Leidos Health, as a business unit, that we support student research and technical education efforts that advance new and innovative technologies, and promote collaboration between Leidos team members, VT faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students,” said Rosen.

The real-world capstone project that CBIA and Leidos have teamed to address is the opioid crisis which has ravaged much of southwestern Virginia. The capstone project has been a three-year process, with each cohort building upon the research and analysis of the previous cohort.  “Our topic is preventative opioid abuse education and testing its effectiveness. It has been brought to its current point by previous capstone groups' work. It went from defining who is affected, how aware audiences are, and now, our project team has created some tools to inform audiences who may not have any previous knowledge about opioids,” said Kaitlyn Horinko, a current MSBA student in the MSBA program and the team lead for the Leidos capstone project.

As team lead, Horinko is the main point of contact between her student team, the capstone faculty advisor, and the capstone sponsor. “My role consists of checking in with team members often in relation to their progress and then relaying that information to those interested.  It is not uncommon for me to have many different conversations, but communication is the biggest part of the role.” One of Horinko’s most important contacts for this project is Julie Rosen, who serves as the Leidos technical liaison. “I create the ‘challenge’ project, including the statement of the mission need, and high-level task definitions. Throughout the academic year, I advise the Capstone student team members in their detailed project planning, the design of their experiment, the collection of data as well as the subsequent analytics of those data,” said Rosen. 

The first cohort back in 2017 tried to define which populations and communities have seen the tragic consequences of the fatal use of opioids and were being affected the most. Based on the students’ research and findings, the conclusion from that first year was that an explicit survey –with a small, but categorized sub-population—must be created and distributed. After an unsuccessful attempt in 2018 by the second cohort to carry out the explicit survey, the third cohort is now pivoting to designing, developing, and assessing the effectiveness of a youth education short course. “This awareness campaign and short course must go beyond the traditional marketing of products that emphasizes cost and societal acceptance; and incorporate the public health ramifications, such as benefit of abstinence, alternate therapies, and social determinants of health,” said Rosen. 

From Horinko’s point of view, the capstone project thus far has been very rewarding. “Our project has been successful so far. My team did a fantastic job meeting our goals with production and we feel ready to collect our survey data now. The process is what I expected, but it feels surreal to be close to the end now, with lots of the hard work already behind me,” said Horinko. 

While many other student projects may have been heavily hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, the Leidos capstone project has adjusted on the fly and made the best of their situation. “Our surveying process has somewhat changed and our team meets online now, but that is it! We originally had planned on posting flyers around campus, but now with the change in university function and altering our IRB protocol, we are recruiting for our survey research 100% online. We hope this still brings about the same results we had hoped for,” said Horinko. “Regardless, our goal is to bring value to our client, which we will deliver on, no matter what. One of the biggest things this program has taught me is the importance of adaptability, which we are living out today, in real-time.”

This drive to succeed regardless of circumstances has not gone unnoticed by Rosen. “This year’s team members performed exceptionally well, both in reaching their schedule of milestones, and in their ability to work collaboratively; originally in person, but with the emergence of the COVID-19 health emergency, they –like the rest of the professional community—have worked their way to collaboration asynchronously and in interactive sharing platforms,” said Rosen. “Not the plan any of us envisioned, but definitely a ‘plus’ on the side of demonstrating abilities to pivot in unexpected times.” This year’s capstone project is a perfect example of the mutually-beneficial partnership between Leidos and CBIA which plans to continue and prosper in the years to come.