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Chance opportunity 'hooked' Outstanding Graduate Student on business analytics


Portrait of Mario Liddell

Outstanding Graduate Student Mario Liddell.

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November 28, 2022
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.

Mario Liddell discovered his passion for data analytics amid a challenge. The W. P. Carey Outstanding Graduate Student was working in financial sales and trying to prepare talking points, presentation decks and dashboards on behalf of a colleague on paternal leave. 

“I felt over my head when I was learning how the reports went together,” Liddell says. “At the end of the eight weeks, I incorporated several improvements to increase report automation and decrease the chances of human error. I was hooked and enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in business data analytics.” 

After Liddell earned his undergraduate degree from ASU as an online student in 2017, he considered graduate programs at several other schools.  

“In the end, I knew that ASU could provide me with the skills I need and help me make local connections to better my community,” Liddell says. “I had already experienced distance learning at ASU and knew they had the infrastructure to provide a world-class learning experience. The flexibility of ASU’s online degree program allowed me to continue working and supporting my family while furthering my education.” 

Liddell, who will graduate with a Master of Science in business analytics, shares more about what made his ASU experience special.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective? 

Answer: The “flaw of averages” blew my mind. When making decisions, it is easy to become focused on the desire for a single number when often we should focus on a distribution of numbers to diffuse the amount of risk associated with being above or below the mean. For example, let’s assume you landed the job of your dreams; you had a great year, and with your bonus, you bought a boat. Most trips are with you and the wife, but with friends and kids, the average number of people on your boat when you take it out seems to be around four. You have a few close calls and decide you should have some life vests on board. Again, the average seems to be about four, so maybe you only buy four life vests. Now, if you crash the boat and have less than the average number of people, it’s a bad day, but if you crash on a day where you have an above-average number of people on your boat, that bad day got a whole lot worse.   

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU? 

A: The professor that made the most significant impact on me was Clinical Associate Professor of information systems Hina Arora. I was working at a bank when taking her course as an undergrad. I struggled with some concepts in her course, and my work schedule made it difficult to attend office hours. I reached out to Dr. Aurora, and she set up a web call for my lunch break. Huddled in the corner of my office breakroom, Dr. Aurora walked me through the example I was struggling with and conveyed a contagious passion for how we could apply these concepts in the real world. Since taking that course, I have developed the same passion for using Python (a coding language) in analytics. I’ve completed and earned my Python certification through my employer. I’ve also acted as a facilitator for learning Python and analytics as part of a professional group. I was invited to New York to help facilitate a code-a-thon for onboarding new tech employees. In addition to continuing my role in the financial industry, I have accepted a position teaching at a Fintech boot camp in 2023. 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying? 

A: I am an ASU online student, and though I live in the Valley about 25 minutes from campus, I don’t spend much time there. My favorite place to study is in my music studio. I pick up a guitar or bass when I find my mind wandering. The treadmill is an excellent place to watch your online lectures.  

Q: What’s the best advice for those still in school? 

A: One: Managing your time is the most important thing you can do for your mental health. Two: Making sure you have an appropriate amount of time to study, and research will make completing assignments and tests less stressful. Three: Nurture your friendships and relationships; there will be days when you need a support system, and there are also days when others require you as a support system. With so many choices, I suggest adding the things you want to attend to your calendar, especially the ones most closely aligned with your goals. Four: Prioritize the important. ASU has so many exceptional programs, clubs, social events and networking events, and then there is life, classwork and possibly work in the industry. Five: Be careful not to get so busy that you are not performing in your classes. Six: On tough days, you may feel very alone. ASU has some great student resources, whether you are struggling with a class or something personal. Fantastic stories and epic journeys rarely have a single character, and you don’t have to make this journey alone.   

Q: What are your plans after graduation? 

A: I plan to continue in my current role expanding upon my work in the financial industry, emphasizing studying client behavior. I will also be teaching a Fintech boot camp part time in 2023 to gain a peek into working in academia.   

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle? 

A: There are so many issues near my heart, but if I could solve one problem, it would be to end the school-to-prison pipeline. Many studies have shown that lifetime achievement increases with affluence, greater availability of choices, access to good mentors and robust support systems. So, practically, I would increase access to counseling services for school-aged children and their families. Finally, I’d ensure that all kids have breakfast and lunch as part of our responsibility of caring for the future. I’d provide easy-to-understand pathways to different success channels so that children without good models have a blueprint for achievement.

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