Education

From Hawkeye country to the Vikings with data analytics

What They're Thinking: Small school's math modeling takes Madison Koch, 24, to 'something super special'

Madison Koch, 24, tells North Cedar High School students about her data analytics job with the Minnesota Vikings during a Feb. 16 visit to her alma mater in Clarence, a city with fewer than 1,000 residents east of Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Madison Koch, 24, tells North Cedar High School students about her data analytics job with the Minnesota Vikings during a Feb. 16 visit to her alma mater in Clarence, a city with fewer than 1,000 residents east of Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CLARENCE — Madison Koch, at age 24, has a bit of a dream job with the Minnesota Vikings.

Koch, a graduate of North Cedar High School in Clarence, about 35 miles east of Cedar Rapids, recently visited her alma mater to tell students there about the “unique benefits” they have attending a high school with about 250 students.

For one thing, you’re able to be involved in a variety of activities, she said, adding that involvement helped her career.

“I could tell those kids are in that same situation that I was, when I didn’t realize this (school) was special,” Koch said. “Kind of like how I am with my job now — it’s hard to recognize you have something super special when you’re in it. I tried to be like, guys, wake up, you got something here.”

Koch is the sales analytics and engagement data coordinator for the Vikings. In that job, she draws on a background in math modeling, data analytics and psychology — using those skills to enhance the fan experience.

Koch also is working with Rick Spellerberg, a former Simpson College professor, who is promoting projects to introduce students to data science through his new nonprofit, the Iowa Center for Interdisciplinary Training.

She answered some questions for us, too.

Q: What about data analytics and math modeling first interested you?

A: I first did (math modeling) in high school. For two years in high school, I did a 36-hour lock-in where you work on a math problem that’s a real world example. One of my years I got a meritorious award, and they don’t just give those away. … That’s when I realized, hey, I’m pretty good at this. So I took kind of all of the industrial arts and engineering classes that our school had to offer. ...

I didn’t have an interest in doing anything super math-related, but as I kept going and seeing the new things you could do with data and math, it embedded itself in my interests, and I ended up here (with the Vikings), with a team I didn’t even really follow. … In Iowa, it was Hawkeyes or nothing for me.

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Q: How did you take those interests and build a career that led you to your job with the Vikings?

A: In high school, I convinced myself I wanted to be an architect like my dad ... and I got into the University of Minnesota. Then I decided OK, this is not the type of math I want to do. So I switched to psychology, where it’s more statistical things — like surveys — or you take something that might not exactly be quantitative data and find how you can make it quantitative. That’s where I really found my love for data. ...

Coming into the Vikings, they’re unique in that everyone throughout the organization is very inclusive, and (we have a) women’s initiative that was put in place to make sure no one felt out of place. They do that a lot, make sure everyone is included.

It feels unique with all the authenticity and all the opportunities they give equally for people to rise up ... which is helpful as a young adult who wants those opportunities.

Q: You were recently back in Iowa visiting your high school and promoting the Basketball Data Analytics Battles, a new project from the Iowa Center for Interdisciplinary Training. What stood out to you about visiting your alma mater?

A: They’re getting more than I did. My mom is a high school/middle school technology and business teacher at North Cedar. Some of the things they get to know now — that wasn’t even a thing when I was in middle school and high school — are awesome. Online classes, flipped classrooms, one-to-one laptops ... more clubs, more engineering on a larger scale. ...

I thought I had it great. We had engineering with Project Lead the Way, and we thought that was the next best thing.

Now, they have so many more opportunities to touch STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). They have so many more opportunities to engage with those interesting fields, and I’m almost a little jealous.

Q: What do you hope students in school today, particularly those in Iowa, can learn from your experience?

A: I always have two pieces of advice I try to live by. Try everything — if it’s not for you, it’s not for you, but at least you tried it and now you know. … And take opportunities as they come and allow yourself to take advantage of those opportunities. Sometimes people hold themselves back, and they second-guess themselves.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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