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CAS Alumnus spotlight: Bennet Voorhees

picture of Bennet Voorhees

Bennet Voorhees double majored in Chinese and Economics, and now he’s using both as a data scientist.

“When I got to campus, I immediately knew I was in the right place,” said Bennet Voorhees. “The UO has one of the best Mandarin programs in the country.” Voorhees, UO class of ’09, originally came to the University of Oregon to study Mandarin Chinese, but after taking a course in economics, he found his second calling. Not only did his love for language learning flourish, but it also crossed-over into a rich career in economics.

During his time at the UO, Voorhees received multiple scholarships to study abroad in Shanghai and then Beijing, one of which was funded by the Chinese Flagship Program through the East Asian Languages and Literatures department. These opportunities to be immersed in the language, accompanied by his continued language studies at UO after his return, fast-tracked his Chinese language skills. Because of his training here at UO, Voorhees was able to complete his graduate studies in China through John’s Hopkins University.

“I don’t think that any other school could have prepared me to study in China for my graduate studies in the way that the UO did,” Voorhees said. “I just don’t think it would be possible anywhere else.”

Voorhees carried his love for language learning over into his career as a data scientist, and now, he has the opportunity to use both skills in conjunction for the next step in his career. “I only started learning Chinese at the UO, and I was able to become fluent and finish my graduate studies in Chinese,” Voorhees said. “And now, 10 years after graduation, my company is sending me to China to do workforce analytics on our companies’ labor force.”

As a data science lead for Merck, Voorhees uses the skills he learned through his economics major, combined with his fluency in Mandarin Chinese, to help make predictions for his companies’ workforce. For the past five years, he’s been diving into people analytics, which is the data science or analytics for human resources. He helps companies make decisions around talent through using a variety of data sources.

Voorhees also teaches introduction to data science at the New York University School of Professional Studies, in their human capital management department. And Voorhees attributes a lot of his success to the UO economics department. Through the honors program at UO, Voorhees was able to get hands-on experience working with the city of Eugene, where he helped develop a revenue forecasting model for both Eugene and Springfield to use for the year to come. Voorhees said this is very similar to what he does today.

“The econ program really prepared me for my career as a data science lead. It taught me a lot about systems and how people behave and react in those systems,” Voorhees said. “I fell in love with the power of those tools because you can use them to explain reactions and make predictions, and that really planted the economics seed for me.”

For Voorhees, the liberal arts education that the College of Arts and Sciences offered him set him on the path for where he is today and gave him the resources he needed to achieve his goals. “Econ and Chinese are hard majors. I think when you’re young, you hear that and it’s intimidating, but don’t let that hold you back. The university has resources to help you succeed, and if you put in the work, the UO takes care of you,” Voorhees said. “I really do believe that.

– By Victoria Sanchez, University Communications

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