When Professor Cliff Ragsdale retires this summer after 33 years of service, he will be leaving a legacy of life-changing education provided to students.

“Dr. Ragsdale has increased the quality of education, the experiential impact for capstone customers, and the long-term professional impact throughout industry wherever his students may go,” said Mark Collins, an alumnus of the Master of Science in Business Administration-Business Analytics (MSBA-BA) program championed by Ragsdale. “He always guided his students toward greatness and contributed to the excellent reputation of Virginia Tech.”

Ragsdale, the Virginia Tech Bank of America Professor of Business Information Technology and academic director of the MSBA-BA program,  received numerous accolades throughout his career, including the Pamplin College’s Certificate of Teaching Excellence and Outstanding Faculty in Doctoral Education award. In 2021, he also received the Decision Sciences Institute’s Lifetime Distinguished Educator award. Ragsdale has been a beloved member of the faculty by his colleagues and students.

Ragsdale earned his Ph.D. in management science and information technology from the University of Georgia and an MBA in finance and bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Central Florida.

Over the years, he has made significant contributions to the field of business analytics, with his primary research interests involving the applications of quantitative modeling techniques to managerial decision-making problems.

Ragsdale is also the author of the widely used textbook “Spreadsheet Modeling and Decision Analysis: A Practical Introduction to Business Analytics,” which for more than 25 years has helped students around the world learn the concepts and techniques associated with descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive analytics.

His research has appeared in several journals, including Decision Sciences, Decision Support Systems, Naval Research Logistics, Operations Research Letters, and Computers and Operations Research.

Before arriving at Virginia Tech, Ragsdale served as a financial analyst for the General Mills Restaurant Group and subsequently consulted for a variety of other companies throughout his career.

Ragsdale has been an active member and held leadership positions within several professional organizations, including the Decision Sciences Institute, the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, and the Association for Supply Chain Management, formerly known as APICS. He also served as the faculty advisor for the Virginia Tech student chapters of APICS, the Appalachia Service Project, the Delta Chi Fraternity, and served on the board of directors for the Southwest Chapter of APICS.

During his time at Virginia Tech, Ragsdale played a founding role in launching the MSBA-BA program. The program’s inception came in the form of an email from former Dean Robert Sumichrast in the summer of 2015, inviting him to assume the role of academic director. Ragsdale played an instrumental role in developing the curriculum, moving it through the approval process, and recruiting students for the first cohort, culminating in the launch of the program in summer 2016.

“This program accepts students from any undergraduate major and for quite a number of students, the program has literally been life changing,” said Ragsdale. “In just a single year, it allows students to pivot and change the opportunities that they have coming out of college.”

The MSBA-BA program is a double win for students as it provides them with excellent analytics training but also develops business acumen that will serve them well throughout their careers, Ragsdale said.

“Dr. Ragsdale has strategically developed an academic program that will set my classmates and me up for success in our professional careers,” said Boman Raskin, a  graduate student in the program. “I am thankful to have had the opportunity to learn from and work with him throughout my time in the MSBA-BA program.”

Over the years, the program has evolved incrementally. Ragsdale has worked with others on the MSBA-BA team in the Center for Business Analytics to improve the program based on feedback from students and other stakeholders. He expresses confidence in leaving the program in capable hands that will continue to adapt to changing developments in the business analytics field, incorporating new methods and technologies as they emerge.

Some of the biggest lessons learned throughout his career are teaching students to have an impact beyond the technical skills learned in the classroom. His work with the MSBA-BA program gave him an appreciation for the soft skills that are involved in analytics and problem solving.

“For people entering the field of analytics as instructors, I think one of the challenges is that we are often focused on the leading edge or the bleeding edge of research, and we naturally want to communicate those things to our students,” Ragsdale said.

He believes there is nothing wrong with that. However, Ragsdale has been surprised to find that with many of the problems his students face, many do not require complex analysis, but rather elegantly simple solutions. As Ragsdale put it, “Clarity in understanding a problem often reduces much of the complexity in solving it.”

“I think it's important to make sure that our classes are grounded in the real world, and in what students are likely to be doing when they exit the classroom,” Ragsdale said. “Sometimes that might be leading edge stuff, but a lot of times it's far simpler kinds of things.”

As Ragsdale enters retirement, he plans to spend more time with his wife volunteering at local food banks and working in the community and beyond to help the less fortunate. He also looks forward to traveling to places he has never been.

“My final piece of advice to students entering the MSBA-BA program is to be fully committed to their work and to approach everything with a professional mindset while remembering that life and business is all about relationships,” Ragsdale said.

Written by Boman Raskin and Elizabeth Ruhl

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