International Graduate Finds His Voice and Career Path Through Data

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

by Colleen M Sabatino '11 (M.A.)

Amarendranath (Amar) Reddy Donthala ’17 (M.S.) is a storyteller. “I enjoy the opportunity to express myself creatively,” he says. But instead of using words, this former computer programmer from Hyderabad, India, weaves his narratives with data.

While earning his Master’s of Science in business intelligence & analytics (MSBI) at Saint Joseph’s, Donthala became enamored with data visualization. During a data mining class, Kathleen Garwood-Campbell, Ph.D., associate professor of business intelligence & analytics, introduced him to interactive data visualization software Tableau and he was hooked.

“Using data to tell stories, to convey meaningful information visually, is fun,” he says, adding that on any given day he has 30 or more Tableau dashboards going — whether for class projects or for fun. “But there’s also pressure attached when you are working with real data, which makes it challenging. Accuracy is key.”

Attention to detail was part of the fiber of his being long before he stepped onto the Philadelphia campus. The son of a statistician, he had already earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science in India and had worked as a programmer analyst for CSC in India and business consultant for Telenor in Stockholm. Eager to combine his skill for accuracy with his desire to tell stories, Donthala consulted a mentor who encouraged him to explore the growing field of data science.

“Amar is relentless in his pursuit to learn things,” says Campbell-Garwood, who served as Donthala’s adviser and will present him with the MSBI graduate award at commencement.  “He’s always doing extra work to expand his knowledge of topics and tools — even after he has mastered whatever basics we have covered in class.”

From the moment he arrived on campus, Donthala set out on the task of establishing roots. At the invitation of fellow business intelligence student Corey Jones ’16, now a Tableau ambassador and associate financial analyst for Johnson & Johnson, Donthala joined the SJU Tableau user group. He began participating in the program’s “MakeOverMonday” challenge, which invites participants to represent a set of data in a new, more creative or compelling way. Combining his computer design skills and new affection for data visualization, Donthala even designed the international event’s logo:

Makeover Monday logo.

With three other students, he started a Tableau clinic offering drop-in sessions on campus for anyone looking for help with data visualizations.

Outside of his academic program, Donthala looked to the offices of adult student life and inclusion and diversity (OID) for ways to get involved. He was granted an assistantship in the Haub School of Business, working alongside Jeannine Shantz, manager of academic computing for HSB. He credits Shantz, graduate program director Patricia Rafferty, and the staff from adult student life and OID with helping him settle into his new life in Philadelphia — from finding an apartment to navigating campus and SJU’s many club offerings.

Donthala joined the international student group Hawks of India and served as a member of the executive board. He was granted membership into SJU’s business honor society, Beta Gamma Sigma, and Jesuit honor society, Alpha Sigma Nu. He was recruited by one of his mentors, John Yi. Ph.D., associate professor of business intelligence and analytics, as a student ambassador for international students and careers. He volunteered for adult student life recruitment events, participated in the 2015 SJU provost search committee and served as a representative on the University’s community standards board and a member of a 2016-2017 strategic planning subcommittee.

“Amar is the first one to volunteer and is eager to take part in assessment efforts to improve the student experience for graduate and international students,” adds Nancy Komada, Ph.D., senior director of adult student life.  

Donthala viewed each involvement as he does his work with data visualization — as an opportunity to express himself in a meaningful way. “I wanted to be a voice for the international student population at Saint Joseph’s,” he says. Currently, he’s helping brainstorm  career resources designed for international students with the Career Services team.

Actively participating in committees and helping to direct University services and policies was a new cultural experience for Donthala, who describes the faculty-student dynamic in India as far more prescribed.

“People at Saint Joseph’s gave me opportunities to build a network and speak up,” he says.

Just two days after graduation, Donthala will officially begin his new role as a data visualization analyst for Comcast, working with Tableau.

“I am looking forward to the challenge, and to continuing to master data visualization techniques,” he says.  “I think data is the future, and I hope I can make a name for myself in the industry.”


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