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Student Group Profile: DREAM at Minnesota State University, Mankato

The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub is developing a community of data science student groups across the Midwest region to share their experiences and best practices. This story is part of a series of student group profiles.

For this profile, we spoke with leaders from DREAM, Data Resources for Eager & Analytical Minds, a recognized student organization at Minnesota State University, Mankato. It has over 300 student members who focus on data science, data analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, information technology, and computer science. DREAM organizes and hosts conferences, trainings, competitions, and industry talks to support the students’ academic and professional development. The DREAM members have won many awards at various data science competitions and have authored dozens of research papers and conference presentations. DREAM is a past recipient of the Outstanding RSO of the Year award.

Minnesota State University, Mankato DREAM logo

What are the goals of your group, and who is your core audience?
DREAM was founded in 2016 when one dedicated data science professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato (MNSU), Dr. Rajeev Bukralia—the esteemed faculty advisor of DREAM—excited the students of the potential of and career opportunities in data science. Since the start, DREAM’s goal has been to explore, raise interest in, and share the wonders of data science and related fields. Our mission is to help students venture into the more interesting aspects of data science and corresponding fields, and in the process, connect students to industry mentors and professionals. We want to support anyone from any background who has interest in data analytics, data science, or computer science. Our core audience is varied because data itself is varied and can come from any field. Our audience is anyone who wants to understand that data on a deeper level, be they business majors, biology students, or just about anything else; we welcome anyone from any background who wants to participate!

What kinds of activities have you done previously, and what do you have planned for this year?
COVID has changed the format of our group considerably, but we still have regular industry talks and we act as a center for communicating events and opportunities to students interested in data science. Recently, we have had multiple industry leaders speak on their experiences working in the industry. They shared their experiences and tips to help set students up for success. So far this semester, we have hosted four industry talks with professionals from big companies such as UnitedHealth, One Drop, and Ovative. The larger projects we have planned for this semester focus around supporting students through the 2022 Data Derby Hackathon, setting up the spring election, and creating fun, themed training sessions for students to dip their toes into key tools for data science, such as Python and Power BI. We also hope to involve the members of our club in a student research showcase this spring in collaboration with MinneAnalytics.

As DREAM grows, we hope to expand our reach into the community. Through school or library programs, we hope to spark an interest in data science in kids grades 6 through 12. Programs like this would not only have to be volunteer-run, but also volunteer-created. So, after completing a few training sessions at the university, we hope to create an introductory data science curriculum that is interesting enough to captivate young students, but also approachable enough for young students.

What challenges have you faced in starting or maintaining your group?
The pandemic, of course, has been a large shift for a group like ours, which has over 300 students, dozens of which would be packed into a room eating pizza together on any given Thursday night pre-COVID. Since then, we have had to switch to Zoom for our meetings, although we’re trying to get back in person soon. There are also the general challenges of collaborating with university administration to secure and maintain the backend functions of the club and making sure to bring in a constant stream of new students to sustain the club.

What suggestions do you have for others who want to start a group on their campus, or expand their current group?
Reach out and promote your group through classes on your campus that are relevant—for example, we promote DREAM in the introductory data science courses and the database management courses.

Run events regularly—consistency will help build up more engagement, both from members of the group that are excited to participate more, or from members of the student body that just decide to pop into one meeting because they see it happening every week.

Keep a careful eye on your roster. Make sure you always have a copy backed up. Also, keep it organized so you can keep track of current students, alumni, etc. Your email roster is your direct point of contact with your group, so be sure to communicate with them regularly and to always maintain the current contact details.

Stay true to the mission. Be active and involved in community events. Try different methods to promote your group’s spirit and resources, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, etc.

Get involved

You can find the DREAM club on Twitter and their website.

Are you a student group leader or advisor? We’d like to hear more about your group’s activities. Contact us if you’d like us to profile your organization or participate in our student groups webinar series. You can also join our new Slack community to continue the discussion and make new connections.

About the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub

The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub is an NSF-funded partnership of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Iowa State University, Indiana University, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, and the University of North Dakota, and is focused on developing collaborations in the 12-state Midwest region. Learn more about the national NSF Big Data Hubs community.

Student Group Profile: Girls Who Code, University of Michigan DCMB

The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub is developing a community of data science student groups across the Midwest region to share their experiences and best practices. This story is part of a series of student group profiles.

University of Michigan Girls Who Code logo

In light of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day on March 8th, we talked with the leaders of Girls Who Code club at the University of Michigan about their work on empowering young girls to participate in coding projects and the STEM field by and large.

What are the goals of your group, and who is your core audience?
We are an organization founded by doctoral students from the Department of Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics at the University of Michigan. Our goal is to provide a collaborative and supportive environment for students of all skill levels and backgrounds interested in learning to code. Our club curriculum focuses on computational data analysis and the Python programming language. Participants learn fundamental coding concepts and implement their new skills in their chosen data science capstone project. Our core audience includes girls, women, and allies who support our mission of closing the gender gap in technology.

What kinds of activities have you done previously, and what do you have planned for this year?
Our Girls Who Code club meets weekly from September through May. During the summer, we offer a two-week intensive Summer Experience (SE) program. During club and SE, students participate in live coding lectures, work through paired programming exercises, hear from guest speakers, and complete a data science capstone project. We have also facilitated field trips to the Ann Arbor Google office and connect students to faculty at the University of Michigan for long-term research experiences. Along the way, we have partnered with other STEM outreach organizations at the University of Michigan. For instance, this year, we will collaborate with FEMMES (Women+ Excelling More in Math, Engineering, and the Sciences) and DFB (Developing Future Biologists) to provide hands-on programming activities.

University of Michigan Girls Who Code group photo

What challenges have you faced in starting or maintaining your group?
A primary challenge we faced in starting the club and SE programs was the lack of live-coded Python for data science curriculum for our target age group (high school). However, given the expertise of our student facilitators, we were able to develop a custom curriculum teaching Python fundamentals and data science skills, including statistical analysis, from scratch. We rely entirely on hard-working undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral volunteers, and recruiting volunteers who can dedicate time to this extracurricular activity is often difficult. To help address this challenge, we have started paying our SE instructors. The pandemic created a massive shift in how we delivered our programming, and we had to shift the club to a virtual format within a week. We have continued virtual instruction, and despite its challenges, we have been able to expand our reach.

University of Michigan Girls Who Code Zoom screenshot 1
University of Michigan Girls Who Code Zoom screenshot 2

What suggestions do you have for others who want to start a group on their campus, or expand their current group?
Find ways to collaborate with existing organizations so that you can build on their previous work instead of reinventing the wheel. Identify and understand the needs of the communities that you’re interested in working with to ensure that your programming aligns with your target audience. It’s also a good idea to consider your organization’s longevity and plan at the onset for the transfer of leadership responsibilities after the original leadership moves on. Creating documents that allow for knowledge transfer and working with faculty that can provide continuity are two such ways to address this.

Get involved

You can find the Girls Who Code club on Twitter, Facebook, and their website. The club has also compiled resources on coding, online teaching, and fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion on their GitHub page.

Are you a student group leader or advisor? We’d like to hear more about your group’s activities. Contact us if you’d like us to profile your organization or participate in our student groups webinar series. You can also join our new Slack community to continue the discussion and make new connections.

About the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub

The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub is an NSF-funded partnership of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Iowa State University, Indiana University, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, and the University of North Dakota, and is focused on developing collaborations in the 12-state Midwest region. Learn more about the national NSF Big Data Hubs community.

Student Group Profile: Iowa State University Data Science Club

The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub is developing a community of data science student groups across the Midwest region to share their experiences and best practices. This story is part of a series of student group profiles.

For this profile, we talked with leaders of the Iowa State University Data Science Club.

Iowa State University Data Science Club logo

What are the goals of your group, and who is your core audience?
Our main goal is to promote the field of Data Science, whether it be information on the field, internship opportunities, school resources, or skills you need to learn to get a job in the field.

Our main audience is data science majors and any other adjacent majors with some prior coding experience. And anyone, in general, that would be interested in this type of career.

What kinds of activities have you done previously, and what do you have planned for this year?
We have focused a lot on company presentations and internship opportunities in the field. We have now been focusing on workshops surrounding data science essentials, like Google Cloud, Machine Learning, or Tableau basics.

What challenges have you faced in starting or maintaining your group?
One of the main challenges has been keeping people engaged. Workshops aren’t super fun but essential to learning about the field. Company presentations are nice but don’t appeal strongly to freshmen and sophomores. We have been working on making the club more of a community. Having members help each other with homework, talk about outside activities, have fun events occasionally that don’t relate to data science, but just make a place for collaboration and talk to others about their love for the field.

What suggestions do you have for others who want to start a group on their campus, or expand their current group?
Start big, expect small. In the beginning, focus on appealing to as many as possible. Do as many things as you can to interest people. But always have a foundation for your goal as a group, stay centered, stay consistent. You may have a ton of people at the first meeting and very few at the next, but the key is to stay consistent and think big picture.

In terms of expansion, bring outside help, see if your school can help, collaborate with outside companies. Put yourself in a position where your group will not just be a fun place to hang out but a place that could benefit your resume and help bring you to experience for future internship opportunities.

Get involved

Are you a student group leader or advisor? We’d like to hear more about your group’s activities. Contact us if you’d like us to profile your organization or participate in our student groups webinar series. You can also join our new Slack community to continue the discussion and make new connections.

About the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub

The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub is an NSF-funded partnership of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Iowa State University, Indiana University, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, and the University of North Dakota, and is focused on developing collaborations in the 12-state Midwest region. Learn more about the national NSF Big Data Hubs community.