April 2022 National Student Data Corps Data Science Student Panel

Guest Post: Kaylen Ko & Emily Rothenberg

A recording of this event is available at the Northeast Big Data Hub’s YouTube channel. 

On April 29th, 2022, the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub (NEBDHub) hosted the eighth National Student Data Corps (NSDC) Data Science Panel. In honor of Community College Month, this student panel highlighted opportunities that community colleges provide and the community needs that they serve. This panel showcased five student panelists who were invited to share their insights into the field of data science and data science education. The panel was co-moderated by Haleigh Stewart, a senior at Columbia University and a Project Coordinator of the National Student Data Corps, and Benjamin (Benjy) Sango, a senior at Columbia University and Student Assistant at the NEBDHub.

The National Student Data Corps is led by the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub and was created to leverage the Hub’s role as a collaboration network to fuel data science innovation through inclusive partnerships. The Hub has four main Focus Areas: Education and Data Literacy, Health, Urban to Rural Communities, and Responsible Data Science. The NSDC was developed to foster a diverse data science community. The NSDC community has grown to over 2,600 members since launching in February 2021, with members that span across the United States and twenty additional countries including Australia, Botswana, Canada, Ecuador, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Lebanon, Mali, Mexico, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates. 

In the April 2022 edition of the Data Science Panel Series, five student panelists joined from different colleges and universities, but they all shared a deep interest in data science: Bilal Abdulrahman, a graduate student attending CUNY Graduate Center, Jay Philbrick, an undergraduate student at Brown University, Jiawei Liu, a graduate student at the City College of New York, Jin Chen, a graduate student in the City College of New York, and Sivan Ding, a graduate student from Columbia University.

The discussion began with an explanation of each panelist’s data science journey and what makes them excited about the field. Siwen, a multi-instrumentalist, is creatively focusing her academic and career goals on the intersection of music technology and data science, while Jin became interested in data science while working on her first research project. Jiawei explained how learning programming languages allowed him to find his passion in developing applications, while Bilal became interested through a machine learning elective course. Jay gained his experience as an intern of the Council of Economic Advisors for The White House. He learned how economic data can be used to evaluate public policy, which made him want to understand the power of data to better inform the fields of social science, economics, and public policy. 

Benjy then asked each panelist to describe a project of interest that they have worked on that leveraged data science. Jin talked about her current project, an indoor navigation application for assisting the visually impaired, while Siwen discussed a research project that applies natural language skills to mobilize investors on human rights through human language. Bilal mentioned a project that allowed a user to track where people were being socially distant through the use of CCTV cameras. Jay discussed his project as a research assistant where he utilized cell phone data to determine school closures during the pandemic, while Jiawei talked about a  recent deep learning group project about brain tumor classification and segmentation.

Benjy then asked about the steps that are beneficial for a student to take in high school or in college to best prepare themselves for beginning or continuing their data science journey. Siwen advised that students should have a general idea of how data science is applied to each domain in this world. There are free materials online to assist you with this process throughout your journey (find some of those free materials in the NSDC’s Learner Central portal). Jin recommended diversifying your coursework. Keep an open mind and try different elective courses – you may stumble upon your passion! Bilal then highlighted how important it is to keep a steady pace while learning. Don’t jump too far ahead and make sure you understand the basics before trying to complete advanced coursework.

Lastly, Benjy asked a question that many students are interested in: how does one get started in data science without any education, previous experience, or knowledge of software tools? Jay started by recommending the use of free, online resources. These resources allow learners to learn at their own pace, to study what is most important to them, and to build a strong educational foundation. Jiawei added that allowing yourself to create a new project will assist you in learning a specific domain in this field. He recommended that learners find a domain that interests them and online courses that fit their interests. Siwen closed with the importance of practicing coursework in probability, statistics, linear algebra, and more, to build a strong base for your data science education. 

After the panel discussion, Haleigh reviewed the variety of free resources hosted by the NSDC for learners and educators in data science. She summarized the Learner Central, the Educator Central, the Volunteer Central, and the Career Central portals of the NSDC. There is also the NSDC Chapter System where you can start or join an NSDC Chapter at your institution or in your region. Chapter members benefit from data science resources, mentorship, research, volunteer, and career opportunities to launch or further their data science journeys.

Haleigh encouraged attendees to participate in the NSDC’s Inaugural Data Science Symposium (NSDC DSS)! This program provides a virtual forum for students to present their research, learn about academic research best practices, network with other data science students, and grow their data science knowledge and community. Visit the DSS webpage to learn more about how to participate as an NSDC Explorer, Mentor, or Judge.

During the Q&A portion of the event, Haleigh and Benjy posed multiple questions from the audience to the five panelists. The panelists discussed which classes have been the most impactful, the importance of growing your data visualization skills, which software tools and coding languages to prioritize, and more. They later provided additional insights into the challenges they’ve faced throughout their journeys in data science, encouraging students in the audience to not become discouraged while looking for jobs and internships in the field.

With the impactful and inspiring Q&A discussion concluded, Haleigh wrapped up the panel by thanking everyone for their contributions to this event and sharing multiple ways to keep in touch with the NSDC:

Find more information about the National Student Data Corps on our website.
Connect with us and fellow data science enthusiasts by joining the NSDC Slack community.
Sign up for the NSDC newsletter.
Follow the Hub on Twitter at @nebigdatahub and the Northeast Student Data Corps at @data_corps.
Follow the Hub on Instagram and LinkedIn.
Start or Join an NSDC Chapter.
Email us at contact@nebigdatahub.org with any questions or comments.