TDAI’s Data Science for Women Summer Camp goes virtual for 2020

For the first time in its history, the Data Science for Women Summer Camp – held annually by the Translational Data Analytics Institute – went 100% virtual this summer. Entering its third year, the summer camp took place on July 14 to July 16, 2020, using a new, 100% virtual format. Since 2018, TDAI has hosted the free summer camp to introduce female middle and high school students  to data science and analytics

“We know from past years that this camp has had a significant impact on the young women who attend, because many of them don’t have access to data analytics courses in their home schools. With so many camps being cancelled due to COVID-19, we felt passionate about preserving the option for young women in central Ohio to participate,” said Jenna McGuire, associate director of TDAI and founder of the camp.

The entire process of transitioning the camp – which is usually 5 full days in person – took three months of planning. The camp’s co-director, TDAI affiliate and associate professor of statistics Asuman Turkmen, incorporated new elements to the camp curriculum that blended seamlessly with the online format.

Twenty-six young women from 20 unique middle and high schools throughout Ohio attended the sessions last week.  In keeping with the founding of the camp, 68% of the campers self-identified as  an underrepresented minority – providing a unique opportunity to discuss racial and gender biases across both data and society.

“From this camp, I took away that women are powerful and strong, and we can change the label on our backs,” said Mya Cummings, an incoming 8th grader at Gahanna Middle School.

Over the course of three days, campers learned about the field of data analytics and practiced skill sets relevant to rising careers that utilize big data.  Campers worked virtually in student teams with staff and student volunteers to develop analytical and problem-solving skills, and heard from scientists, data analytics professionals, and college students studying data analytics.  Major principles of data, realistic applications, and the nature of data storytelling were explored throughout the three days of activities, helping this group of young women to experience data in a new way, and through a new perspective.

Camp sponsor and speaker, Rehgan Avon, founded the Big Data Analytics Association while she was a student at Ohio State and went on to start Women in Analytics in 2016 – an  organization with the goal of supporting women in the world of analytics by creating a global community focused on bringing visibility to female leaders in the field. Avon said that when talking to the campers, she aims to express how data is a part of everything: “I usually ask them what they’re most passionate about and then relay relevant facts about data playing a role in those passions. For example, if they say they are passionate about music, I’ll mention how data analytics is used in something like Pandora.”

“One of the most interesting things that I learned was how data could be applied to almost every single area imaginable. We learned about how data could be applied to history, astronomy, biology, and so much more. Because of this camp, I am considering taking a minor in Data Science when I am in college,” said Anya Zhang, a rising 10th grader at Dublin Jerome High School.

Yet, as many of the campers and speakers mention, the impact of programs like the Data Science for Women Summer Camp reach far beyond the lessons, educational games, and experiences that occur during the week.

“These experiences build their confidence, allowing them to understand the strengths and abilities that they already possess,” said Yolanda Zepeda, women and leadership co-lead and member of the Summer Camp Advisory Board. “It shows them that data science has relevance in their world and isn’t an abstract concept that doesn’t apply to them.”

Harmony Bench, a speaker at the camp since 2018 whose focus is on data visualization around Katherine Dunham, a Black choreographer, said, “These young people are the next generation of college students and professionals, and it makes me so happy to see them accessing tools and skills that will help them in their current and future successes.”

With 71% of the campers self-reporting as underrepresented minority women in the field, it was important to make the camp an empowering experience and allow each attendee to see a career in data analytics as a viable option for them. “It helps to have supportive spaces like these especially carved out. Participating in the field of data analysis is one way that underrepresented youths can take control of their own narratives,” said Bench, a TDAI affiliate and associate professor of dance.

Being an underrepresented female in data science means a lot to camp speaker and Ohio State University student, Jaelyn Johnson, who said, “I view myself as someone who has the ability to encourage other underrepresented students to pursue opportunities in technology, STEM, and data science despite the fact that we rarely see ourselves depicted in these areas.”

This year’s program included discussions on women in STEM and activities involving minority entrepreneurship in the economy, creating an atmosphere where campers could feel further empowered and understand that, as OSU Planetarium speaker Wayne Schlingman said, “They won’t have to break any molds when they are the ones to set the standards.”

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