Data analytics boot camp provides necessary career preparation
By Jill Spotz
What can raw data tell you? Quite a bit, actually. Passenger data from the Titanic offers glimpses into who was most likely to survive. Yelp user reviews might inform which restaurant in your area has the best Kung Pao chicken. And, timelier than ever, CDC data about COVID-19 positive cases can inform how many people in a given ZIP code tested positive. Addressing a critical need in today’s data-driven world, Lafayette College recently offered a 10-week Data Analytics Boot Camp, tailored to equip students from traditionally non-STEM backgrounds with marketable skills to understand and analyze data.
Offered from June through August in conjunction with Dyer Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Gateway Career Center, the virtual program came together quickly at the conclusion of the spring semester to fill the gap students were facing as a result of canceled internships due to the pandemic.
“In March, as things were starting to shut down, it wasn’t hard to see the negative implications for students as we knew internship cancellations were going to be next,” explains Yusuf Dahl, Bradbury Dyer, III ’64 Director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “A major driver behind this program was offering skill sets to students to help them be more marketable and competitive in the job market, while filling the lost opportunities caused by COVID-19.”
The summer boot camp offered a combination of synchronous and asynchronous lessons from two courses—Intro to Applied Data Analytics and Data Visualization. Students learned and practiced analyst-level work using software that Fortune 500 companies already use. Members of Lafayette’s faculty, including Chris Ruebeck, associate professor of economics, Chun Wai Liew, associate professor and department head of computer science, and Christopher Phillips, professor of English, were involved in vetting the program to ensure it would meet student needs. The curriculum focused on concepts that inform decisions relevant to data analysis, visualization, and business intelligence. Through real world examples, students mastered Excel and Tableau, a software program that simplifies and visualizes data.
For Ayllin Schoengut Hecker ’21, the summer boot camp was appealing because it provided the opportunity to gain skills needed for her career path. The London-based senior is majoring in chemical engineering with a minor in bioengineering and will be attending graduate school before seeking employment at a pharmaceutical company.
“I’m looking at the option of a master’s in biopharmaceuticals or chemical engineering,” explains Schoengut Hecker. “Chances are, I will be working in a lab collecting data so this knowledge provides an advantage. With Tableau, you do not need coding skills, making it easy to use. I now have the skills to analyze data and communicate results to stakeholders.”
For recent graduate Rochelle Greenidge ’20, majoring in history and English didn’t include the type of data analytics training that other majors would have provided, yet skills she learned can easily be applied in the classroom for this soon-to-be teacher.
“I was interested in the summer boot camp because I previously participated in a fellowship where we discussed the importance of classroom data and how it can help to improve learning,” explains Greenidge. “The Data Analytics Boot Camp made collecting data much easier and more efficient. It is one of the ways that teachers can track students’ growth and curriculum pacing. Part of being a leader is constantly growing your knowledge base, and this class provided that.”
The program was funded by several members of Lafayette’s Marquis Parents Council, Dyer Center, and Gateway Career Center. As parents of a current Lafayette student, Doug and Sandra Griebel P’23 supported the program because of its tremendous potential to provide marketable knowledge to students who wouldn’t necessarily learn the skills through their majors. “These kids are working very hard already in their areas of discipline, but this program offers the innovative and educational exposure to skills that are necessary for success,” explains Griebel. “These are smart kids who are self-motivated to learn something new during a period when they have down time.”
“The skills these students acquired during this boot camp are in demand from employers across a variety of industry sectors. We were so pleased to help bring this opportunity to our students because the experience will undoubtedly be an advantage in the extremely competitive internship and job market,” says Mike Summers, assistant vice president, Gateway Career Center.
During a time when colleges are changing quickly to ensure students continue to receive the same level of quality education in a virtual setting, the Data Analytics Boot Camp came to fruition based on the agility and responsiveness of the College amid a critical period.
“This is an excellent example of a positive outcome from COVID-19. In just a few short weeks we pulled this together through a collaborative effort. It was “all hands on deck” to make this happen so quickly for our students. I believe this can and should be the first of many innovative and meaningful new co-curricular opportunities we bring forward to benefit our students in the future,” says Summers.
The 30 students who participated in the class also will have the opportunity to use their newfound knowledge. Dyer Center and Gateway Career Center are looking for opportunities to connect rising senior participants with follow-up curricular experiences so they can practice their skills in the classroom as well as recent graduates interested in careers involving data analytics with future employment opportunities.
The Data Analytics Boot Camp was supported by Dyer Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Gateway Career Center, Doug and Sandra Griebel P’23, Dan and Danitza Miller P’20, and Paul and Karen Fenaroli P’22.