Meet Dr. Sharon Jones, faculty member at Charlotte, N.C.’s Central Piedmont Community College. She teaches SAS programming and recently added “author” to her resume thanks to her first book, “A Recipe for Success Using SAS University Edition: How to Plan Your First Analytics Project.” Whether you’re learning or teaching SAS, it has something for you.
In this Q&A, she describes her path to becoming a SAS user and offers advice to prospective SAS learners and educators.
When and how did you get interested in computers and analytics?
I became interested in computers while working on my masters and learning programming for the first time. I can still remember when I successfully turned the light bulb on and off in Visual Basic.net. My move into analytics happened when I was introduced to SAS while working on my doctorate. I loved the easy-to-use syntax and the ability to be able to talk about my research with confidence.
What led you to use SAS for the first time and what was it like?
I used SAS for the first time at NC State while working on my doctorate, as it was the base for our Quantitative Research class. It was a learning curve because I had not really worked with data or the analyzing of data, but I found I really liked it and as I mentioned, the syntax was simple.
Once I understood the basic procedures, I was hooked! Then when the opportunity came while teaching at the high school level to go and learn the Base SAS course, I jumped on the opportunity. I knew what a valuable skill it would be to high school students.
What are the most important things someone needs to know about using University Edition?
Patience in the downloading and set up. Follow the instructions. The ability to code and also drag and drop. I love that you can either code your whole project or just use the Tasks and Utilities menu.
In Chapter 4 of your book, there’s a fascinating case study about your students at Phillip O. Berry Academy, a magnet high school in Charlotte.
They surveyed fellow students on whether the Charlotte Bobcats should take back the team’s original name, the Hornets. The students presented their research to team representatives. Eventually, the Bobcats became the Hornets.
Is it possible their SAS analysis precipitated an NBA team’s name change?
The Bobcat project was really a great experience. It came from a grassroots effort on social media about changing Charlotte's professional basketball team's name back to the Hornets. The kids surveyed 900 students in the span of one lunch period by using iPads and SurveyMonkey.
They presented the results to the Bobcats and the response was, “We spent millions of dollars using a company to survey residents and they came up with the same answers you all did using SAS!" That really made the kids feel good.
I believed the name change was already under consideration when we presented our results, but they would not say. I think the kid's results just further solidified the notion to change the name and we did get to be part of the name change celebration. That was really cool.
You’re a Charlotte native. What was it like watching your students analyze data about your hometown team?
The team was the Hornets when I was growing up and there was definitely some nostalgia for me to see if people would really want to change the name from the Bobcats back to Hornets. The students that spearheaded the project, they really took the initiative themselves. They asked if they could survey the students and then run the data in SAS to see what the students thought.
It was really quite amazing to watch the students take ownership and explain their project to people, to watch their passion and see how SAS was helping them solve the problem. They loved it so much that even after they left the SAS class, they returned to do a follow up survey! That shows me the power of SAS.
(Editor’s note: to learn more about Bobcats-to-Hornets project, read student Lauren Cook’s 2015 SAS Global Forum paper, “The Analytics Behind An NBA Name Change” and Maggie Miller’s blog post, “Phillip O. Berry Academy educates SAS users of tomorrow.”)
How has University Edition benefitted you as an educator?
Until recently, my access to SAS has been through my educational institute. Now with SAS University Edition, I have the power to access, practice and create on my own. I think the possibilities are endless for one to be able to really take data and find new knowledge and then apply that knowledge to create change.
Why would anyone want to learn SAS?
It truly gives you the power to know. You can take raw data from anywhere and make it mean something. For me the power of SAS is this: Once you learn the syntax, the skill never goes stale. You can always stay current. The data will change but your tools to analyze through SAS will remain steady. There will be some changes and updates, but the fundamental knowledge of how to program in SAS does not and therefore, you will always be marketable.
What sort of aptitude should someone have in order to learn SAS?
The aptitude to learn. It will take some time but stay the course and it will just click. Anyone can learn SAS! I thought I would be Oprah and never thought I would be a technologist, but SAS helped change my course. It gave me confidence that I could program and at the same time create. That is powerful.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not teaching?
I love spending time with my family, my husband Ricky. Our two boys Ethan and Dylan, and our parents and siblings. I love to bake (hence all the food analogies in the book), shop, swim and travel. My favorite thing to do is spend time at Lake Norman with my family.