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From Marine Pilot to Horse Industry Data Scientist, Online Degree Grad in High Demand

By  Lindsey Piercy

Life is a balancing act, and no one understands that more than Eric Rannenberg. As a man with many titles — devoted husband, dedicated father and former Marine turned working professional — time is a valuable resource.

"Time management is critical," he said.

At just 18 years old, the Bowling Green, Kentucky, native hit the ground running. He signed on the dotted line and, with great pride, enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve after completing high school.

In 1999, Rannenberg earned his bachelor’s degree in business management from Eastern Kentucky University. Following graduation, he served for 10 years on active duty as a pilot in the Marines and deployed twice overseas.

In 2009, Rannenberg separated from active service, joined the Maryland Air National Guard and decided to further his education. In the midst of working and flying, he successfully completed his MBA from the University of Maryland University College in 2013.

"I recognized that I enjoyed looking at numbers, evaluating trends, assessing differences between groups, estimating the probabilities of an event and understanding the relationships between variables," Rannenberg said. "Furthermore, I saw the growing demand for people with statistical competency and the huge deficit of people with that skill."

Hoping to fill that gap, Rannenberg contemplated pursuing an engineering degree. He was coming out of a math course on UK's campus when he saw a flier for another program that sparked his curiosity — the online Master of Applied Statistics in the College of Arts and Sciences.

"I experienced the need firsthand for statistically competent personnel in an engineering capacity. I also knew, other industries were realizing the value of their data and would be looking for people with statistical knowledge," Rannenberg explained. "I felt that investing the time and energy into statistics would differentiate me and enable me to pursue new opportunities."

Just as Rannenberg has high expectations for himself, he also had high expectations of the program. He wanted to pursue a degree from a reputable university that understood the challenges of balancing a demanding career and growing family.

"I knew that an online program would allow me freedom from physically going to a classroom every day. The online venue solved that issue," Rannenberg continued. "But the quality of the education was important to me. Before I enrolled, I watched several of the sample videos and spoke face-to-face with the professors."

After learning the online program is taught with a combination of live and recorded lectures, using the latest light-board technology and weekly Q&A sessions, Rannenberg was confident in his decision to apply.

The Master of Applied Statistics program is designed to reach a wide audience of traditional and nontraditional students looking to expand career opportunities through building statistical expertise. The two-year and four-year track options allow for flexibility, and flexibility was exactly what Rannenberg needed.

He "attended" class from his home in Kentucky, an aircraft hangar in Maryland and even in the middle of the desert in Nevada. "As long as I could get an internet connection, I could participate live," he said. "If I missed a class, I could watch the recorded session, so that I was never behind."

“Our online master's in applied statistics provides our students with data analytic skills that make them immediately employable upon graduation,” Arnold Stromberg, chair of the Dr. Bing Zhang Department of Statistics, added.

Before graduating in the spring of 2018, recruiters were already knocking at Rannenberg’ s door. He later decided to bring his expansive statistical knowledge to an industry Kentuckians know best — horse racing.

As a data scientist at The Jockey Club Information Systems Inc. (TJCIS) in Lexington, Kentucky, Rannenberg works on projects to transform hypotheses and data into actionable information and predictions. He is currently analyzing data for various projects in support of commercial services provided by TJCIS as well as health, welfare and safety initiatives undertaken by The Jockey Club for the thoroughbred horse racing industry.

"I am responsible for compilation and analysis of data from a variety of sources. That includes choosing the appropriate modeling techniques, writing the scripts, verifying the results and presenting my findings."

Throughout his career, Rannenberg has taken calculated risks that have produced positive results. Now, he's encouraging fellow students, who are interested in pursuing an online degree, to do the same.

"Maintaining a full-time job, being an attentive father and husband, as well as staying on top of class took dedication. There were many long days and nights, but good things do not come easy. However, to me, much of the class work was enjoyable, and I generally looked forward to the next lesson. I would do it all over again."

For more information about online programs, you can visit the UK Online website.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion two years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. The Chronicle of Higher Education judged us a “Great College to Work for,”  and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for three straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.