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Road Scholar: NDMU Student Commutes From New York

October 25, 2013

It’s not uncommon to hear students in Gator Lounge complain about monster commutes to school. But it’s doubtful anyone can top Kerry McDonald, who travels nearly 200 miles each way to class at Notre Dame.

Luckily, he only has to do it once a week.

Kerry, a health care consultant who started the M.S. in Analytics in Knowledge Management in August, rides the train every Wednesday from New York to Baltimore for class. He boards the 11:30 a.m. train in Manhattan, and after class, he arrives back home at 2 a.m. the next morning.

This raises an obvious question: Why?

“I looked at NYU, Hunter College. I looked at some other schools and didn’t find in their curriculum the depth of what I was looking for in terms of Knowledge Management,” he said. “Notre Dame did a good job of putting together a competitive program.”

The phenomenon that is attracting students like Kerry to Notre Dame’s Analytics in Knowledge management program is the trend in business, healthcare, politics and government toward mining Big Data. This involves analyzing masses of electronic and other data to enhance customer service; streamline production; improve communication systems; create cost efficiencies; promote collaboration; or secure networks and data against threats. 

“Government and private organizations are dealing with 21st century problems: an explosion of seemingly unconnected Internet data, as well as loss of knowledge through retirements,” says Barbara Mento, associate professor of computer science and coordinator of the Analytics in Knowledge Management program. “Their employees are contributing to their organizations' advancement by enrolling in Notre Dame’s Analytics program to gain skills in non-traditional data capture, design, and analysis.” 

In Kerry’s case, he is seeking the ability to design systems to manage the increasing amounts of data in the health care system, especially with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

“The health care system collects a huge amount of data and doesn’t do a lot with it,” he said. “In the past, everything was on paper and nobody talked to anybody else. If you have a patient’s chart and it’s 3 inches thick, you’re going to have a tough time finding things in it to better manage that patient’s care.”

An example he points to is that of a diabetic patient who is not taking prescribed medication.

“Until now, if a patient didn’t take the prescribed medication, nobody knew,” he said, a situation that inevitably leads to a health crisis for the patient and an expensive hospitalization. In a knowledge management system, the pharmacist alerts the patient’s physician if the patient doesn’t renew a prescription, and a nurse goes to the patient’s home to ensure compliance, maintaining the patient’s health and avoiding a hospital stay.

Notre Dame held a few other attractions for Kerry. He earned a B.A. in Finance from Notre Dame in 1992, so the application process was simpler. And his son, who lives in Baltimore, picks him up at the train station and they are able to spend the day together before classes start.

Once he completes the two-year program, his Notre Dame degree will enable Kerry to contribute to the exciting developments he sees happening in health care.

“I think this program will give me the educational competence to help design some of the databases for managing knowledge in health care,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be an expanding field in the next number of years.”