Making a difference with Oracle Academy
The spotlight is on Professor Michael Fenick, Assistant Professor at Broward College, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Professor Michael Fenick teaches economics and business analytics within the Bachelor of Science in Supervision and Management program at Broward College, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Fenick’s courses stress the importance of understanding data to make management decisions and introduce students to database programming as an essential skill in today’s data-driven world.
Fenick holds a Master’s degree in information technology from American InterContinental University, Illinois, and he soon will complete a Master’s degree in financial economics from West Texas A&M University College of Business.
He uses the curriculum and resources provided by Oracle Academy to give students a real-world view of the power of data to drive business, ensuring that those enrolled in the business analytics program track know how to write database queries. Currently he is engaged in helping two other universities build data science degree programs, using Oracle Academy curriculum for teaching business analytics.
Oracle Academy: What drew you to Oracle and Oracle Academy resources for teaching computer science?
Michael Fenick: After graduating, I worked in data analysis and as a programmer and got to know the Oracle database quite well. In 2004, I was leading a project for which our developers needed some training. Broward College at that time had no instructor and the associate dean, knowing that I had a Master’s degree in information technology, suggested that I teach classes in Oracle SQL and PL/SQL part time and use my experience to help colleagues. I did this, nights, for 18 months while still working as system analyst, teaching basic programming and database design using traditional textbooks.
But the books were technology agnostic, covering generic topics, and I wanted my students to start writing SQL queries on the Oracle database. So, when I learned that Oracle Academy’s resources focus on the benefits of this powerful programming language, I found the missing link. Broward College immediately became an Oracle Academy Institutional member, and we now use Oracle Academy curriculum to help get young people into the job market.
Oracle Academy: And you are teaching Oracle database topics to students of business, not computer science. How did that happen?
Michael Fenick: In fact, Oracle Academy is present in both departments. I stayed in the computer science department for 3-4 years and then, having taken some graduate economics courses, switched to the much larger business department to teach economics and business analytics. Why did I take Oracle Academy with me? Because one thing missing in the whole Bachelor’s in supervision and management track was a focus on SQL. Even though it covered data, you can only talk about data concepts so long before you must write a query. Introducing SQL for extracting business information was not hard to sell because management decisions are usually driven from some sort of report or artifact stemming from a data source. Data-driven decisions need to be made by business people who are data literate.
When you create a class in a degree program, you are trying to find which combination of courses will be best for students. But since our college is always trying to align learning with workplace competence, it was easy to prove the value of including a data literacy course. Once you look at the job description of what people in management actually do, it makes a lot of sense to include SQL to enable data-informed decision making.
Oracle Academy: And how do the students take to it?
Michael Fenick: Business students love it because we combine hands-on exercises with real-world experiences. They don’t think of it as a technical class but as a problem-solving exercise. This takes the fear out of the idea of having to memorize a series of functions or procedures or syntax, because they don’t have to: it’s a business class.
I explain that an organization has goals―maximizing revenue, minimizing costs, finding new customers, managing the supply chain―and that achieving those goals is a data-driven activity, with decisions supported by available data. When they look into the job market, they see the huge demand for SQL skills and see that Oracle is widely used in businesses across South Florida. They gain confidence about learning from the actual vendor―and the same goes for me, the teacher.
These students may never have taken any programming courses, but they got it right away. The Oracle Academy material walked them through data modelling, to writing a first query, to sorting and filtering―all the basics of SQL―and I teach it in business case fashion. For example, there’s a business problem: your manager wants to know how many customers have placed an order in the past month, because they want to send out a coupon or follow up on an email. So, let’s see how we get that data.
Having a business problem to solve removes any fear of the technical part. Equipped later with SQL skills, they are no longer dependent on others for reports; my students can then ask better questions, drive better discussions. They learn how to extract data and write reports―it gives them power.
Oracle Academy: What kind of job market does South Florida represent?
Michael Fenick: South Florida is a large metropolitan area with jobs in hospitality and tourism, agriculture, international trade, aerospace, life sciences, and financial services. All potential employers have a database, frequently one in every department, all data dependent. Broward College is extremely workforce-focused, making sure what we teach helps students get careers; we find out what skills employers want and build up those skills in students.
When my students look at job offers, they can see that SQL is a part of every single opportunity. We get headhunters from these industries inquiring about Oracle SQL skills, and that drives us to contextualize the teaching. Through Oracle Academy, we have access to Oracle Application Express (APEX) for designing web applications. For students wishing to work in healthcare, we create a data model for a hospital or a health insurance company; for those looking to hospitality―casinos, hotels or cruise lines―we create a database to support the point of sale.
We also teach students how to handle questions that are difficult to answer. For instance, if weather events impacting a cruise line are not in the data model, then however good you might be at SQL, you’re going to have to either create a couple of tables, import some data from a weather data source, or, after the fact, take the results and merge them in order to make projections.
The reality of using data to drive decisions gives students a lot of confidence, and they start thinking about their careers a little differently.
Oracle Academy: How many students graduate each year?
Michael Fenick: It’s around 200 to 300 per year. I teach Oracle Academy curriculum to around 180 students in the four-year bachelors program in supervision and management, and another 60 are learning SQL within the two-year computer science program. My classes incorporate Oracle Academy’s courses Database Design and Programming with SQL and Programming with PL/SQL, using a little bit of both, mixing and matching the content and revisiting each year to see how I could improve. We also teach Database Foundations to those interested in database administration and development careers. I have trained staff in both departments and even Broward College career development staff wanting to use SQL for understanding employment data.
Oracle Academy: Do you also steer students towards industry certification?
Michael Fenick: For sure. If my students know how to write queries that help make business decisions, I encourage them to sit for the Oracle SQL Certification exams. Already during my courses, I introduce them to the exam topics. However, graduates, especially night students, often leave the college without obtaining Oracle certification because they didn’t have time. A few months or a year later, they contact me for help in those exams. They’ve already taken the course, they know how to write queries, and they know the language, but the certification exam is not simple.
What I like about Oracle certification is that there’s no way you are going to pass unless you have the knowledge and the skills. You have to know how to write queries.
When employers see Oracle certification on a resumé, they know that the candidate is dedicated to being information literate, can write queries and, importantly, that if they know Oracle, they will be comfortable with other platforms. Remember that a lot of Oracle tools are about integration with a larger software ecosystem.
To encourage young professionals post-graduation, Broward runs Oracle Certification Bootcamps twice a year, where former students can return for two-day intensive training, covering as much of the Oracle Junior Associate exam content as possible. Apart from the exam discounts we get for being an Oracle Academy Institutional member, the computer science department also at times finds funds to help pay for certification costs.
Oracle Academy: Lastly, how does Michael Fenick relax from the business of data?
Michael Fenick: We have two sons, eight and four, and spend a lot of spare time in the many parks and waterways in and around Fort Lauderdale, doing nature hikes, canoeing, looking for turtles and fish. We love going to the beach and my oldest son loves to go surfing. We also go to the nearby Kennedy Space Center, and at home spend time looking at meteor showers, the moon, and various constellations through a telescope on the porch.
Thank you, Professor Michael Fenick, for your passion for Oracle Academy and for preparing your students to make a positive impact.