Alumni spotlight: Madison project solidified data analysis interest for Ben Koss ’22, MS ’23

When the City of Madison wanted to research sick leave and gender equity, UniverCity Alliance paired the data analysis project with Ben Koss ’22, MS ’23, who was pursuing his master’s of science degree in business analytics.  

Ben Koss

Koss, who received his undergraduate degree in in political science and a certificate in environmental studies in 2022, appreciated the paid internship opportunity in Spring 2023 that allowed him to learn new skills and tools while supporting a local government priority.  

“This was at a time where I was transitioning from an interest more in politics to an interest in analytics,” said Koss, who now works as a business analyst in the customer billing department at Madison Gas and Electric.  

Koss’ internship was funded through the Knapp Bequest, which UniverCity Alliance received to continue supporting paid internships for students to address Madison projects and priorities.  

The data analysis project with Madison’s Human Resources Department researched whether there are statistically significant differences in the leave balances remaining at retirement for individuals across race and gender. The results, which showed that women more often take sick leave and consequently have less money available in retirement because sick leave funds subsidize the cost of insurance in retirement, will inform the city’s Human Resources Department rewrite of wage and life insurance plans. 

“It was fantastic to collaborate on a project aimed at fostering a more equitable future for the City of Madison and its employees,” Koss said.  

UniverCity recently received additional Knapp Bequest funding for 2024-25 and looks forward to pairing more University of Wisconsin–Madison students with Madison projects.  

“A hands on experience is great, especially if you’re somebody who’s purpose driven, mission driven,” Koss said. “It’s a really good opportunity to help out within your local community.” 

How did you get involved with UniverCity? 

A professor recommended the program to me. I was at a time of exploring my interests. I found out about this internship, which was as an HR data analyst intern with the City of Madison, which honestly sounded like a perfect combination of my political science undergrad and my analytics master’s degree. 

What was your experience like working with Madison on the HR study? 

It was really cool. I really appreciated UniverCity Alliance’s helped throughout the project and the flexibility that was provided by the City of Madison. The city gave me a bunch of data that was in a way a little bit unorganized, and they wanted me to help figure out if at the time of retirement, if the retirees had a significant difference in remaining leave balance by demographic. They were trying to figure out if there was a difference in whether by age, race, gender, in the amount of time taken off by the time they were retiring.

I was doing the project alongside my master’s program, and alongside another consulting practicum project. It was really cool because I got to work with the tools and programs that I wanted to improve on. I did a lot of the data cleaning through Excel, which I wanted to gain a little bit of mastery in, and I also got to explore using this AI-powered tool called Dataiku, which was really cool, and helped me reach some of my conclusions that helped the city decide what to do when they were rewriting their wage and life insurance plans. The whole point of this project was to see if they need to make a difference to make their plans more equitable. 

What was it looking working on a community-based project?  

It was awesome being able to apply my skills to the real world. I really enjoyed the transition from the hypothetical classroom work to the real world. I have that political science undergrad, and I never really completely abandoned my interest in helping others and working in government. Being able to work for my local government, Madison – and I’ve lived in the area forever. I went to Waunakee High School. – was really cool just seeing how they operate and seeing what I can bring to the table combining my background and all my different skills. 

How did this experience contribute to your professional career?  

It definitely solidified my interest in working with data. The HR area was really cool to work in. I just found myself ending up in customer billing working in a great company in MGE. The ability to work with large amounts of data with the City of Madison project really helped me transition into the working world with that background and working with real data working for a real company. 

—Abigail Becker