Belk Scholar Makes History with Master’s in Data Science and Business Analytics

Wednesday, December 22, 2021
Taylor Ferguson is the first Black female to complete the Belk Scholars program.

Taylor Ferguson is breaking barriers as a Black woman in data science.

This month, Ferguson became the first Black female to complete the Belk Scholars program, earning her bachelor’s degree in business analytics and Professional Science Master’s degree (PSM) in Data Science and Business Analytics from UNC Charlotte in just five years. 

Ferguson, from Columbia, South Carolina, said she first became interested in data science because of the ability to apply her favorite subjects all in one field, including math, science, art, and graphic design. She loved participating in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) magnet programs growing up, so math and science have been a part of her life for several years. 

After deciding to study data science, Ferguson chose UNC Charlotte; the campus grabbed her attention on her first visit, where its sense of familiarity and belonging captivated her. Ferguson arrived her freshman year without any previous computer science experience but has developed her coding skills over her academic career. Today, she can write hundreds of lines of code with visualizations. 

Earning her master’s degree is an incredible accomplishment in itself, but just as importantly, Ferguson is also setting the tone for diversity in the data science industry. She is looking forward to representing Black women in a field where this representation is lacking. 

Having grown up in advanced classes and accelerated programs my whole life, I have become so accustomed to being either the only, or one of very few Black women in the room that I don’t always recognize the disparity even when it’s right in front of my face,” she said. 

She recalls a time in her math class where, two months into the course, she realized she was the only Black woman there. 

Being a minority in the DSBA program presented great opportunities, but also some challenges, Ferguson said.  “There exists both real and self-imposed pressure to perform highly in everything you do, and if that standard is not met, it can weigh quite heavily.” 

She came to learn to avoid comparing herself to other students, and to view any obstacles as opportunities for “improvement or self-development and not a detraction of character.”

Some other notable achievements during her academic career at UNC Charlotte include interning as a graphic design assistant for the Belk College of Business and as a junior analyst for Dominion Energy, working as a teaching assistant at the School of Data Science, belonging to the National Society of Leadership and Success, and volunteering at the botanical gardens on campus. 

As she approaches graduation and exits this chapter of her life, Ferguson advises fellow Niners to look for opportunities to explore interests that lie outside of coursework. For example, Ferguson loves art but had never taken any classes, so she obtained a graphic design internship to explore her creative side. 

The Belk Scholars program, created in 2013 through a $5 million gift from the Belk Foundation, covers in-state tuition renewable for four years, providing a fast-track for Belk College students with a strong academic background to pursue a graduate degree in data analytics. The program is offered through the Belk College's Business Honors Program

Ferguson, who was also the first African American female admitted to the Belk Scholars program, is just the 11th student to complete the program and the second Belk Scholar to earn a DSBA. 

In January, she will enter the workforce as a senior associate market research analyst at JMP, a SAS Institute business unit. 

Green and Gold Drive Business
Established in 1970, UNC Charlotte’s Belk College of Business is one of the Carolinas’ largest business schools, with more than 5,100 students, more than 100 full-time faculty, and an alumni network of more than 34,000. Accredited by AACSB International, the college is committed to building strong partnerships in the greater Charlotte region and beyond as North Carolina's urban research business school. Learn more about how the Belk College is driving business at, and on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.