CHICAGO — "I just like numbers." For Amar Patel, numbers just make sense. From his early days of prize tickets and payroll, to his current role in data mining and analytics, Patel has taken advantage of his affinity for facts and figures to propel him to success.
Patel will graduate this June with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Analytics from the School for New Learning at DePaul University. He has taken a nontraditional path, balancing his college studies with family life while working full time at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. He credits the School for New Learning for launching him into the next era of his career, analyzing data for one of the largest jails in the U.S.
Patel’s steadfast business acumen emerged early in his life. In high school, Patel worked as a custodian at Nickel City, a family entertainment complex near his hometown of Glenview, Illinois. He went on to manage the video game emporium, and when the opportunity arose to purchase the family fun center, he took it. For four years, Patel focused his attention on the operation of Nickel City. College would have to be put on the back burner.
In time, Patel married and started a family. He continued his ownership of Nickel City, but eventually turned over the day-to-day operations of the complex to family members and a team of managers.
The next turn in the road
Patel was proud of his first successful business venture but wanted to do more. “I made the decision to go back to school. I started at DePaul going toward an accounting degree, but stopped when I started working full time at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office,” Patel explained. “Then an opportunity came up for advancement at the Sheriff’s Office, but one of the requirements was to finish school.”
The School for New Learning emerged as the best choice, as it offered almost all of the classes he would need online.
“The online experience has been wonderful, and it’s really helped me with managing time,” Patel said. “I can go to my job at the Sheriff’s Office. I can put the kids down to sleep at 8 o’clock at night and log in to do my homework, papers or whatever needs to be done. It was a struggle, it was a lot of work, but it worked out well.”
Patel credits Vincent de Paul Professor Ann Stanford with changing his life. Stanford helped him discover the business analytics path, “which really suited me,” said Patel.
“It was hard for me to juggle all the hats that I have. Ann encouraged me to call her no matter what time. She would take a call at nine at night. She didn’t have to do that. She was fantastic and very accommodating,” extolled Patel.
Stanford was equally impressed with Patel’s work ethic. “Amar is a wonderful student. Maintaining a highly demanding full-time job, being a new father and finishing his bachelor’s degree, both rapidly and thoughtfully, is a huge accomplishment,” shared Stanford. “He is one of the hardest working, determined students I've known. He's everyone's dream student.”
A self-proclaimed 'numbers guy'
“I’m a numbers guy,” said Patel. “It doesn’t bore me, working on a computer programming and coding using Structured Query Language (SQL). Things like that interest me,” explained Patel.
That’s a good thing. Now, as director of business intelligence at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Patel’s work life is all about the numbers and data. Working toward his degree helped Patel earn a promotion into the position.
“It was holding me back, not having the piece of paper that shows I ran the race and finished the marathon,” said Patel. “In my day-to-day work at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, we deal with database mining and creating views and moving data across different platforms — it’s fun.”
Patel explained the importance of data at the Sheriff’s Office, “They do a really good job of using data to make a decision. They’re not going off a gut feeling, but from proven numbers.” He works with a jail management system and service and arrest data from 911 calls to ensure that information is being captured and managed correctly. Patel explained that there is an emphasis on performance management at the Sheriff’s Office, and he works to increase accountability, provide transparency and increase operational efficiency. Through automation, reports and dashboards, Patel has helped to turn the office’s raw data into useful information.
“I think the Sheriff’s Office has provided a very good medium for me to really enhance my skills. They are doing a lot of things that I’m in-line with to make things better, not just for the staff or whoever’s in custody, but for the community. It makes sense, and I enjoy going to work.”
For Patel, his path to success may have taken a few detours, but he believes it doesn’t always matter how you get down the road of success so long as you arrive.
To those who may not feel the traditional road to higher education is for them, Patel offered this advice: “Take a good look at the School for New Learning because it makes sense and it works. It’s a program in a school that wants you to succeed and will give you the path and the tools to succeed. It’s manageable. You can have a family; you can have a full-time job and you can still get your degree.”