(This is part two of a two-part series)
As the eyes of the nation turn to San Francisco this weekend in anticipation of Super Bowl 50, several dozen college and university students are among those helping to pull off the top event in sports.
Included among the thousands of support personnel are a number of data science students, who are there to help the National Football League gather information about pre-game, game day, and post-game events; about players, fans, the media, and everything else that goes into making Super Bowl day possible. More than just sports analytics, the data gathered will hopefully help the NFL make each consecutive event even bigger and better.
In part one of this series, we heard from Carmen McKell, founding director of the Center for Data Science Analytics at Houghton College in upstate New York, on how students from that college got a ticket to San Francisco to be part of the behind-the-scenes efforts. Houghton students that traveled San Francisco to participate in the event are Jacob Dunnet, Anna Coryell, Ashley Schenk, Isaac Hess, Theresa Taggart, Ethan Duryea, and Bjorn Webb.
The students will be working shifts at the NFL Fan Zone, an interactive theme part of sorts for fans.
“Students will have an opportunity to observe how the NFL meets the needs of its many fans that will not have an opportunity to attend the actual game,” McKell explained. “There is a variety of different activities sponsored by many different NFL corporate sponsors, all of whom will be collecting data for future use.”
While in San Francisco, the seven students will also meet with Trina Chaisson, the senior product manager at data visualization company Tableau Software to learn about current issues and trends in data visualization.
Houghton College recently launched its new data science program and is one of the first liberal arts colleges in the country to offer an undergraduate degree in data science. Information Management spoke with student Theresa Taggart, the first full time major in the program, about her expectations and hopes for this weekend’s efforts.
Q. Please tell us a little about yourself.
TT: I’m from Albany, NY. I have a double major at Houghton College in biochemistry and data science. I really like the program.
Q. How did you get interested in studying data science?
TT: Last year I came here as a freshman thinking that I wanted to be a doctor but I decided that I like research a lot more so I decided to take biochemistry. Then something came up on my news feed about the data science program and I thought that it would be something good for me so I took my first data science course last semester and I ended up loving it.
Q. Healthcare data research is a huge field. Is that something that you’re interested in or do you just like data science in general?
TT: I’m interested in healthcare and how we can use data science to know if people are more likely to get generic diseases, whether they’re more likely to be at risk and things like that.
Q. Do you think that your friends and family are surprised by your interest in analytics or is this in sync with your personality?
TT: I think it’s definitely with my personality. In high school I was the musical kind of kid.
Q. What area do you see yourself heading in and what would you like to do professionally?
TT: If I had to take one concentration it would be pediatric research. I see myself maybe doing cancer research one day. When I look at data science and how that can work into it I think there are so many different possibilities and I want to explore that a lot more.
Q. Did you go to the Hilton Head golf event that was held a couple of months ago (a sports analytics opportunity discussed in part one)?
TT: I did.
Q. How did that all come about, and also how you were selected to go to the Super Bowl?
TT: We were all enrolled in Data Science 1. Whoever was enrolled in that class and whoever was in programming classes, we were all asked to apply for the trip. I got accepted to that trip, went on that, and I got to know Dr. (Dexter) Davis from the University of Tennessee Martin. He really liked our group of students and he wanted to take us to the Super Bowl so he made the accommodations and UTM has been really helpful in helping to get us there.
Q. Have they told you exactly what you’ll be doing behind the scenes at the Super Bowl?
TT: Right now it’s not totally clear, but Dr. Davis and the team have assisted football players in press conferences and things like that. That would be very exciting. He said it might change up a little bit this year, so we don't know exactly what we’ll be doing until we get there. Most of all while we’re there our goal is to observe sports management and how it works and they try to come up with some questions from a data science perspective that we can supplement sports management with in the future.
Q. What do you hope that you’ll take away personally from the experience?
TT: Another aspect of this is that we’re visiting Tableau and I really hope to take away a lot of experiential learning from that – getting to know what it’s like to work in a data environment every day. I think that might be something I would like to do in the future. From that perspective that would be a good experience.
Q. What do you hear about the type of work opportunities that will be available and what the hiring demand is like for data professionals these days?
TT: I know the year that I graduate – 2018 – will be one of the biggest years for hiring in data science. It is definitely an expanding field, and I know there are a lot of grad schools that are opening up data science programs. But I know that grad school is in my future somewhere.
Q. If you could have your dream job in data science what would it be?
TT: I think if I could pick an exact place to work it would be St. Jude’s Hospital. That would be a great place for me, to research on cancer and stuff like that. I think that would be my dream place to work, to be able to supplement what they already do.
Q. What are your thoughts on your colleagues at school, if you were to characterize their skills with data analytics, their studies, and their personality traits that you think will serve them well? What should an employer know about the Class of 2018?
TT: I think we’re an extremely diverse group. I’m in biochemistry; one of my close friends is mathematics major; another friend is in business; another friend is in computer science. We’re all across the board and are all very open to whatever we can use data science for. I’m actually the first major on campus for data science. I think they’re all very open to where it can take them, and to see how it can supplement the work that they hope to do one day.
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