Saluki Pride: Jim Nelson makes analytics and artificial intelligence understandable, usable and relevant

Jim Nelson, an associate professor and coordinator of the analytics program in the School of Analytics, Finance and Economics and the director of the Pontikes Center for Advanced Analytics and Artificial Intelligence, is largely responsible for putting the “analytics” in SIU’s College of Business and Analytics, and he’s introducing analytics and artificial intelligence to students in relevant ways, according to colleagues and students. 

Nelson was instrumental in spearheading the development of both the undergraduate and graduate analytics programs within the college, according to Kevin Sylwester, interim director of the School of Analytics, Finance and Economics. Nelson has reorganized and revitalized the Pontikes Center, too. He delivers complicated analytics and artificial intelligence content to his students in ways that make sense and are accessible, they say.

“It is evident that Dr. Nelson is passionate about the strategic analytics program and the students in it,” said Elizabeth Taylor, a student who has taken several of Nelson’s classes.

She said his passion about analytics and artificial intelligence is obvious during his lectures, even during online discussions, and that enthusiasm is contagious, even when the topics could be perceived as technical or boring.

“He brings the material to life and makes it relevant with real-world examples,” she added, and noted that he is empathetic and caring with his students, responsive to their emails and seeks their feedback on how to make his classes even better.

Get to know Jim Nelson

Name: Jim Nelson

Department/title: School of Analytics, Finance, and Economics in the College of Business and Analytics, analytics program coordinator, associate professor and director of the Pontikes Center for Advanced Analytics and Artificial Intelligence

Years at SIU Carbondale: 17 

Give us the elevator pitch for your job.

I create business leaders who are able to bridge the gap between the massive amounts of data collected by organizations and creating solutions to real business problems. My research follows this as I work with real companies that are striving for new ways to solve business problems and create new strategies using the combination of analytics and artificial intelligence.

What is your favorite part of your job? 
Learning new stuff.  Seriously – in my research and in my teaching, I always have to keep up with the latest and greatest advances in technology and business practice. Things are moving so fast that I have to keep up so that my students have the best preparation possible for making a difference in the real world.

Why did you choose SIU? 
The College of Business, as it was called at the time, has a world-class faculty and outstanding reputation. That’s what brought me here. What keeps me here are the students and the university leadership. The amazing diversity of backgrounds and experiences really makes my teaching a lot of fun. From first-generation college students to business people who have been working for many years, I’m always learning something. The other part is the university leadership. Most universities are very set in their ways, and it’s hard to change. Having the ability to come up with an idea and then run with it, and then make it a reality is something really rare. The college’s pivot to analytics and artificial intelligence was amazingly fast, and how we implemented our new analytics programs was truly wonderful. Far from filling out a form and waiting a few years for an answer, we went from nothing to a set of world-class analytics programs in just a couple of years, making us the first business college in the country to combine analytics and AI.  We are now the College of Business and Analytics. That’s pretty amazing.

My fondest memory as a child is… 
Walking the beach on Midway Island and finding glass Japanese fish floats that washed ashore.  I still have those floats, and they are proudly displayed in my home.

My favorite meal is:
Peeps.  I’m not sure those are food, but they really are great.

If you are a collector, what do you collect and why, and how did you get started? 
Vintage aircraft instruments and memorabilia. I fly my Cessna 170, where I do some of my best thinking 5,000 feet in the air, and I can’t throw anything out. Minerals and geodes. Totally cool- looking. Vintage computer parts. It started as classroom show and tell and to mark the evolution of my discipline.

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