While many people own some sort of fitness tracker, how often do you really stop to consider how the data collection and analysis works?
Recently, an immersion weekend through the University of Notre Dame’s Online MS in Data Science program offered students the chance to delve into the topic. In January, they put their data science knowledge into practice by learning from experts in their field about the application of data science in healthcare and medicine during the in-person immersion weekend in North Carolina.
“The immersion experiences give a look into a handful of different industries and are exciting because you may learn of applications of data science you had never considered,” said student Cole Leppert, from Los Angeles, California, who works in cybersecurity analytics for Warner Brothers Discovery.
The master’s program is offered by the Department of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics (ACMS). Director Roger Woodard has said the immersions are key in a program that is mostly completed online. The immersions give students an opportunity to come together to network with alumni and corporate partners, explore the topics they are learning in class further, and spend time with their fellow classmates.
The immersion featured Notre Dame alumni as representatives from leading companies in the healthcare industry, including Steven LeBoeuf, CEO of Valencell, Kevin Hutchinson, vice president of state government solutions at Optum Health, Paul Tobin, director of hardware engineering at Nvidia, Brett Wujek, principle production manager at SAS, and Christina Mack, chief scientific officer at IQVIA.
Mack said she was impressed by the students’ attentiveness and capacity for understanding complex material. They asked probing, thoughtful questions, she said.
“I was struck by how engaged the students were,” she said. “They had so many thoughts and questions across the topics; it was fun to discuss what they were thinking and where they focused,” she said.
During the weekend, the students heard lectures and panel discussions, and they built an algorithm, using fitness tracker data, to predict body movement—whether someone is walking, climbing stairs, or doing jumping jacks.
“Being able to connect with my peers and work together on deriving an algorithm that had the potential to impact health and fitness, even if on a small scale, really energized me and reminded me of how powerful and meaningful the applications of data science can be,” said student Megan Hammond, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who works as an account strategist at Google.
Learning about the immersion topic is important, Woodard noted, but it’s not the only important aspect of the immersion.
“I think the most rewarding aspect of the immersion experience for students is the opportunity to make contacts with experts in the field and the Notre Dame network,” he said.
Leppert and others agreed.
“Data science is really broad and quickly progressing, so it is exciting to hear from industry leaders and get real insight into the powerful ways companies are leveraging data today,” he said. But spending time with others in the course was a highlight.
“You get to know people throughout the program over each semester, but nothing is the same as being in person together and getting to spend time outside of the (virtual) classroom.”
For Hammond, the benefit of the ND’s online MS in data science program stems from the opportunities for real world learning applications and the strong sense of service and community.
“There are many online data science programs, but I have yet to see another program of the same academic caliber that provides real-world experiences and is rooted in being a force for good in the world,” Hammond said.
Leppert was drawn to the program because of the flexibility offered to working-professionals, opportunity to receive a world-class education, and fostering of relationships.
“The most rewarding thing about the program is undoubtedly the people,” Leppert said. “The program connects you with incredible faculty and allows you to build meaningful relationships with your classmates, who are spread across time zones and work in a number of industries, to form a wonderful group of diverse perspectives.”
In addition to the primary speakers, the immersion weekend featured a panel of Notre Dame alumni who hire data scientists included Avisek Choudhury of Avanade, Aniket Desai of Fractal, Jessica Higgins Ph.D. of Atorus Research, Gregory Nemecek of UnitedHealth Group, and Michael Sayer of Children's Mercy Kansas City.