Dr. William Amadio: How a Passion for Mathematics Led to a Career in Data Science

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William Amadio, PhD, of Rider University’s MBA program.

Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, William Amadio loved math and was particularly interested in the U.S. space program. With the dream of someday working for NASA, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics, capped by a PhD in Probability Theory from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (now the NYU Tandon School of Engineering). Looking back, Amadio says winning the math medal at his elementary school graduation ceremony set his career in motion: “I feel very fortunate to have discovered my passion very early in life.”

NASA’s Loss, Rider’s Gain

NASA — with its glory days in the past — wasn’t hiring when Amadio entered the job market, but Rider University was. In 1974, Amadio joined the faculty of the Business College, where he taught courses in statistics and actuarial science, a subject he had pursued in case a job at NASA didn’t pan out. Forty-seven years later, Rider’s second-longest-serving faculty member is still teaching and advising students in the school’s online Master of Business Administration program, earning the title of Most Influential Faculty Member four times and receiving the Advisor Appreciation Award twice along the way.

While at Rider, Amadio has seen the Space Age give way to the Computer Age and now the Age of Big Data. Both he and the MBA program have evolved to stay relevant and prepare students for successful careers in today’s rapidly changing business world. “The computer field exploded while I was at Rider, and I went right along with it,” says Amadio, who credits his long and happy tenure at the university to following his passion and taking a flexible approach to life. His advice to students? Be passionate and flexible in your thinking about a career, and develop a skill set that can change with the times.

Evolving Research Interests

Amadio’s current research focuses on health care and social media, two fields very much in the news. More importantly for Amadio, both generate huge amounts of unstructured data every day. Making sense of large data sets — using data analytics and business intelligence tools to gather, process and model it — is both a challenge and an opportunity for organizations seeking to make informed, data-driven decisions.

In the field of social media, Amadio and a Rider colleague developed the text mining/visualization tool ReviewMap to study online reviews on the travel and hospitality website Tripadvisor to help hotels in Midtown Manhattan sharpen their competitive standing. To overcome the volume problem posed by so many text-based online review platforms, they developed a text mining algorithm to identify key features addressed in the reviews — such as free breakfast, the view, or a romantic atmosphere — and recorded the sentiment for each. The competitive insights gleaned were powerful yet remarkably simple.

For example, a key feature generating lots of positive sentiment was the view of St. Patrick’s Cathedral from a client’s hotel. However, the hotel’s website didn’t include a picture of it — an insight and oversight that might not have been identified but for the project. Their paper, “Competitive Analysis of Online Reviews Using Exploratory Text Mining,” received the Bright Idea Award from the New Jersey Collegiate Business Administration Association in 2017.

More recently, Amadio put his knowledge of statistics and data analytics to work volunteering with the Philadelphia-based Childhood Cancer Data Lab (CCDL), an initiative of the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to fight childhood cancer by harnessing big data. That study checked a box on Amadio’s “bucket list”: to work on projects impacting children’s health.

Amadio used the CCDL’s vast database on childhood cancers to capture and standardize data on pediatric brain tumors, applying a statistical technique called elastic net logistic regression to build a model based on the tumors’ genetics. He then sought to determine whether X-chromosome inactivation occurs in children with brain tumors. According to the model he developed with 99% accuracy, it does not. The work, which wrapped up in early 2020, contributed to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Atlas, a data-gathering initiative to accelerate discoveries for therapeutic intervention in children diagnosed with brain tumors.

A New Business Analytics Concentration

The explosive growth of data and computing power, combined with the tremendous success of data-savvy companies such as Amazon and Google, has created a demand for professionals who can make sense of the tsunami of data and put it to work for businesses. “About 10 to 12 years ago, people began talking about what to do with all their data,” says Amadio, who, using his quantitative, statistical and programming background, developed and taught an MBA course called Data Mining.

That course, along with growing interest in analytics among students and successful analytics projects in the business school’s marketing, accounting and finance departments, laid the groundwork for what became Rider’s new undergraduate major in business analytics and the MBA program’s Business Analytics concentration, which launched in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Rider was “one of the first schools [in New Jersey] to have a credible faculty,” Amadio says. “I was the first but am now one of many people who have serious experience and knowledge of business analytics.”

Why Students Choose Rider University

While a lot has changed since Amadio came to Rider in 1974, much hasn’t. “Serious students come to Rider to develop their careers,” Amadio says. “That’s been a constant.”

But students today have options that were once unavailable, including the option of pursuing an MBA wholly online. That convenience and flexibility is a boon to working professionals interested in an advanced degree, but it presents challenges. “The challenge for a school like Rider, where the student-faculty relationship is one of our competitive advantages, is keeping that up when you can’t meet face to face,” Amadio says. Nevertheless, it’s one Amadio is confident the school can overcome.

Rider’s focus on catering to working professionals with asynchronous online degree programs has given the faculty extensive experience building online courses and keeping students engaged. The big upfront investment needed to establish online courses ultimately leaves more time for engagement, explains Amadio, who finds plenty of time to advise students to focus on finding their passion and gaining transferable skills to position themselves for sustainable business success.

Prepare for a Successful Business Career with an Online MBA from Rider

Rider University’s online Master of Business Administration, with concentrations in Business Analytics, Finance and Global Business, offers real-world training from real-world leaders. Learn more about Dr. William Amadio and how Rider University’s online MBA program prepares students for a wide range of business careers.

Recommended Readings

Building a Business Career: How Valuable Is an MBA?

Business Analyst Roles: An In-Depth Look

4 Technical Skills Every Business Analyst Needs to Master