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It was his first conference presentation and he aced it. Yasser Farha, a doctoral student in Martin Tuchman School of Management’s (MTSM) Ph.D. program in Business Data Science, attended the annual gathering this past January of the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE), and there received great feedback after speaking about his research developing machine-learning tools to measure the disposition of students toward entrepreneurship. The goal of his study, funded by the Saudi Arabia Cultural Mission, is for these tools to help tailor entrepreneurship education to students from different cultures.

“It was among the most technology-centric research topics, and that is mainly due to MTSM’s STEM-oriented Ph.D. program,” said Farha. “The data science aspect of the paper seemed very interesting for the audience. And the paper was presented in one of the most-attended sessions in the conference.”

Farha also applied and was accepted to participate in the USASBE Doctoral Consortium for Teaching and Learning in Entrepreneurship, which featured remarks from the organization’s current and former presidents and other well-known entrepreneurship scholars.

“The doctoral consortium is an experience that I will never forget. It involved many different perspectives of entrepreneurship education,” he said. “All the thanks go to Dr. [Cesar] Bandera, who encouraged me to apply and provided me with a recommendation letter.”

“The technological innovativeness of Yasser’s work made it particularly distinctive at both the USASBE conference and the USASBE doctoral consortium,” noted MTSM Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship Bandera, who is Farha’s doctoral adviser and provided him with the data for his research.

Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, Farha came to the United States in 2008. He holds a bachelor’s in business administration, with specialization in international business, from Lynn University; a master’s in international business from Florida International University; and a graduate certificate in advanced study of business research from Seton Hall University. His background also includes several years of professional experience in sales and operations.

Business data science doctoral student Yasser Farha

Here, he discusses why he chose to analyze entrepreneurship, what impact his findings will have on entrepreneurship education, and how MTSM’s Ph.D. program has helped him along the way.

Why did you decide on this line of research?

I chose the entrepreneurship domain in particular for three main reasons. First, I grew up working in a small family business, where I had the opportunity to watch my father as an entrepreneur. Second, Dr. Bandera’s research in entrepreneurship education has inspired and attracted me to the field. Third, my schooling background is in international business, which is interdisciplinary in nature as is the field of entrepreneurship, and other business domains, such as marketing and finance, overlap it.

How do your machine-learning tools measure student disposition toward entrepreneurship?

I am developing text-analysis tools and models that apply classification and clustering techniques to sort out and discover implicit and explicit information in students’ open-ended responses on questions that ask about creating new ventures.

Are you looking for characteristics of students who choose entrepreneurship? If so, what are they?

In my research, I’m looking to identify the aspects of innovation and entrepreneurship that appeal to a student, and those aspects that deter a student from considering a career as an entrepreneur. Each student has a different disposition. I’m also looking to identify variables that may impact students’ entrepreneurial disposition, such as major and cultural background.

How will your findings help develop entrepreneurship education?

My research findings will help to tailor entrepreneurship curricula. For instance, if we find there is a statistical significance between majors and entrepreneurial dispositions, an entrepreneurship curriculum should be adjusted to that variance when taught in different colleges. And the same with a culture — each culture should have its own entrepreneurship courses that focus on specific students’ needs.

At what point are you in your research, and what is your future direction?

I’ve just finished my coursework and I’m now focusing on my research. The future direction includes investigating several questions regarding entrepreneurship education and student entrepreneurial dispositions, in addition to optimizing the text-analysis models that I’ve built.

How have the Ph.D. program at MTSM and Professor Bandera supported you?

At MTSM, there are many people who are always standing by us. First on the list is the dean of MTSM, Dr. Reggie J. Caudill. He covered all of my travel expenses so I could attend the conference and doctoral consortium. I met him after coming back from the conference to thank him for all the support that he has given me. His words were inspiring and encouraging to keep the level of work high and to contribute back to the school and community.

Dr. Cheickna Sylla, the associate dean of MTSM, Dr. Yi Chen, the previous director of the Ph.D. program, and Dr. Dangton Yu, the current director of the Ph.D. program, have all been caring and willing to help solve any obstacles we confront as Ph.D. students.

As for Dr. Bandera, I would not have been able to participate in the USASBE conference without his guidance, direction and supervision. I consider myself so lucky to have him as my doctoral adviser.