Boosting big data


Twenty years after completing a Master of Science in Business Administration, Andy Fok (MSc ‘92) called up one of his professors to say he’d like to donate funds toward his research.

That professor was Tae Oum, UPS Foundation Chair in Transportation, in Sauder’s Operations and Logistics Division. For the past three decades, Oum has examined and reported on productivity, cost competitiveness, international regulations and policies in the airline industry. Fok was one of Oum’s research assistants in the early 1990s.

“In all my years of hiring research assistants—usually three or four per year—they often kept in touch about job or life news, but this was the first time a former student had called to fund my lab,” says Oum. “Of course, I said ‘yes, that would be fantastic!’”

 Fok was keen to support student training on how to work with massive amounts of data and uncover findings that can ultimately help businesses improve their operations.He says he owes his career success as a big data analyst to the opportunities he first had to experiment with data mining and statistical programming in the school’s Centre for Transportation Studies.

 In 2012, while working at Telus, Fok decided to utilize the company’s charitable matching gift program to double his contribution toward Oum’s work as founder of the Air Transport Research Society, which publishes a significant annual report evaluating the efficiency of 230 airports in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

“Andy’s funding helped me to establish the evaluation process for the rankings presented in the report, which has gained solid traction and is now regarded as a top resource around the world,” says Oum.

Inspired by his professor’s ability to optimize research funding and train qualified assistants, Fok continues to support Oum’s lab every year, having made his most recent gift in October. He feels strongly about donors doing what they can to help the next generation of research analysts to get a jumpstart on their careers.

“Professors like Tae play a key role in training and helping research assistants to understand the insights derived from data and how this knowledge is applied. That’s the whole story behind why I’m supporting his work,” says Fok.

“There is a lot of error involved in learning, and for young people to learn about new tools and processes, someone needs to help them—so they at least have a start.”