Faculty Spotlight: Christopher Heiden, IT/Decision Sciences

It’s no surprise associate professor Christopher Heiden developed a love for computers and data analytics early. While his peers were busy playing computer games, Heiden was taking programming classes and studying advanced computer technologies for the automotive industry. He says, “I first took an interest in computer technology around seventh grade. I took a programming class in BASIC on an Apple IIe. This early experience along with my father being a COBOL programmer for an automotive company helped instill an interest in computer technology.” 

The Road to Walsh

Building on his lifelong passion for emerging technologies and data analysis, Heiden landed his first job as a HTML programmer in 1998. When a part-time teaching position opened in computer information systems at St. Clair County Community College, Heiden seized the opportunity. It was as an instructor at SC4 that he realized just how much he enjoyed working with students. He says, “My favorite part of teaching is being able to help students achieve their academic goals.”

Heiden’s extensive academic and professional experience helps him bring the best of both worlds to his students. Currently working towards his Ph.D. in Information Systems through Dakota State University, Heiden understands firsthand the challenge of balancing school and work and is especially committed to helping his students succeed at Walsh. It wasn’t long ago Heiden was a student at Walsh himself, earning his BBA in Management from Walsh in 2006. Like many of his students, Heiden is dedicated to furthering his education while finding a healthy balance between his research, full-time teaching duties, and raising a family. In addition to his BBA, Heiden also earned a MSIS from Dakota State University and an MSA from Central University.

 After nearly two decades of direct, real world experience working in IT, database design, data analysis, and HTML/Web development, Heiden eventually made the leap from working at a multinational computer technology company and teaching at St. Clair County Community College in the evenings to teaching full-time in the IT/Decision Sciences department at Walsh. Heiden feels strongly that his work in corporate settings makes him a better teacher. He says, “I like to bring my professional experiences and background into the classroom. I chose to teach at Walsh because I wanted to share my experiences and give back to the college that I’m also a graduate of.”

Teaching Philosophy

As an educator, Heiden wants his students to do more than just memorize concepts from a textbook. Rather than teach difficult concepts in isolation, Heiden focuses on making theoretical concepts in data science, databases, and programming come to life by showing students how they can apply insights gleaned from data across many disciplines. His focus is on helping Walsh students understand academic concepts as they apply to real business problems. He says, “I enjoy transforming the academic and theoretical concepts into real world examples for students. Data science is an exciting subject to teach because it allows me to show students how they can apply interdisciplinary fields to help identify insight from data.”

 When working with students, Heiden first helps them digest complex concepts, then asks them to deepen their learning by trying to apply those concepts to real world situations. But he doesn't simply teach a difficult concept and then expect his students to do the work on their own. He says, “As an instructor, I try to help provide guidance to move beyond the difficult areas. Ultimately, the goal is to help the student figure out that they are not alone and can come to me when necessary.”

 Part of what makes Heiden an asset and great support for his students is his attitude towards failure. Heiden expects students will make mistakes and stresses that those mistakes are a valuable part of the learning process. When it comes to learning, Heiden says, “You cannot always get it right the first time. I understand the frustration of not getting something right the first time. However, you have to look at it in a positive way. Failure is a step in the learning process.”

Master of Science in Data Analytics

Although he’s been immersed in technology and scholarship related to data analysis for many years, Heiden also knows not every Walsh student shares his technical background, and that’s perfectly okay in his book. He believes data science is a viable career path for those with non-technical backgrounds and encourages anyone interested in data analyst or data scientist positions to explore the Master of Science in Data Analytics (MSDA) program at Walsh. He says, “A career in data analytics is right for individuals with non-technical backgrounds for several reasons. One reason is the MSDA is designed to provide the non-technical individuals with the academic background and technical skills necessary to be competitive in the field of data analytics.” Students without a technical background can also gain useful skills and background knowledge through introductory courses at Walsh on databases, programming, and networking.

Research Focus

Heiden worked with Automation Alley on a research project that is contained within their Technology in Industry Report (2019 and 2020). Specifically, he contributed data protection research related to cybersecurity and IIoT. Overall, the report is designed to help manufacturers succeed in the rapidly changing Industry 4.0 landscape.

 Heiden is also hard at work on a research paper dealing with an analysis of social media analytics in automotive manufacturing. He aims to share the results of his research with the Midwest Association of Information Systems during their conference proceedings. Heiden also plans to complete his dissertation in the summer of 2021 and will earn his Ph.D. in Information Systems from Dakota State University, where he majors in analytics and decision support.

Because he’s existed at the intersection of scholarship and business for the vast majority of his career, Heiden is adept at helping his students prepare to take what they’ve learned at Walsh forward into their careers. It’s not enough to gain a shallow understanding of technology or study problems in a vacuum; Heiden aims to teach students how to take insights gleaned from data analysis and turn those insights into useful information for decision makers. 

Interested in a career in data analytics?

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