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Data Matters draws over 100 students to Chapel Hill

International group of students sharpen data science skills in short course series.

A second cohort of students recently wrapped up their summer data science learning at the Data Matters Short Course Series. A total of 132 business managers, data analytics specialists, academic researchers, and others who grapple with big data attended the short course series held during the last full week of June at the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education in Chapel Hill.

Topics covered included information visualization, data curation, R, health informatics, open data, machine learning, and social network analysis.

Wondwossen Lerebo, associate professor of biostatistics from Mekele University in Ethiopia (above), said he traveled all the way to Chapel Hill because of the need for data analysis skills in developing countries. “If you take HIV/AIDS, for the past 20 years the CDC/USID were helping developing countries to collect data. And most of the time, those data are not properly analyzed. I had an interest in analyzing those data, and at that time, I had a limitation on data mining using the recent software like R and health informatics. That’s why I came here. The investment is rewarding, and I believe that I am going to apply what I’ve got from here.”

A little closer to home, UNC Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science student Erica Brody studied information visualization and big health data: “I learned about eight different tools to do information visualization, and I think I’ll probably use some of those tools in my career. I also enjoyed meeting the other participants and learning about other people’s uses for data.”

The ability to thoughtfully analyze large amounts of data is increasingly recognized as a key skill in the modern economy; however, it is a niche often difficult to fill because of ever-changing technology. As Meredith Sykes, technical support representative at Contactology (above), points out, continued learning brings more certainty and conquers fear of the data deluge.

At an evening reception for students, instructors and guests, Stan Ahalt, director of RENCI, touted the importance of big data analytical talent in the modern economy. “Data has permeated every facet of our society, so really the question is how are we going to make use of all this data, and you’re the answer. Everywhere I go, this is the itch that people are trying to scratch, so the skills you’re learning in taking these courses are absolutely invaluable.”

Tom Carsey, director of the Odum Institute, chimed in with Ahalt to recognize the importance of learning to access and analyze data for the public good. “Data is about people. To aspire to do things like lowering invasive procedures in neonatal care or to help manage environmental changes to make people’s lives better and safer, this is what we can do in data science and this is what we can do [in academic environments] where we might not otherwise.”

The National Consortium for Data Science (NCDS), the Odum Institute for Social Science Research at UNC-Chapel Hill, and the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) will sponsor the series again next June.

About the Sponsors:

The National Consortium for Data Science formed in 2013 as a non-profit public-private partnership to advance the field of data science and address the data challenges of the 21st century. For more information, visit www.datascienceconsortium.org.

The Odum Institute for Research in Social Science provides a range of consulting services on quantitative and qualitative methods, GIS and spatial analysis, survey research, and data management. For more information, visit www.odum.unc.edu.

RENCI develops and deploys advanced computing, networking, and data technologies to enable research discoveries and business innovations. The institute is a collaborative effort involving UNC, Duke University and NC State University. For more information, visit www.renci.org.

Data Matters Slideshow:

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