UWM information studies students pilot data science initiative

A technology company hopes a philanthropic initiative, aimed at getting more undergraduate and graduate students informed and interested in data-based research, will grow following a successful pilot program at UWM’s School of Information Studies.

The Data Intelligence Project will nurture the “next generation of data enthusiasts,” Alation Inc., said in announcing its effort in July. The project launched in the summer of 2020 through courses taught by Maria Haigh, an associate professor of information studies at UWM.

Haigh said the Data Intelligence Project allowed hundreds of students to learn and conduct data-based research and incorporate it into assignments. Alation plans to expand the program in 2022, providing the platform for free to up to five more academic institutions.

The project provides tools to retrieve and critically assess data. The actual data sets are created or imported by users. Students in Haigh’s classes analyzed COVID-19 data.

“Alation has helped them nurture data research, collaboration and analytical skills – the kind of skills that are critical to solving big data problems,” Haigh said. The platform was incorporated into six sections of the Introduction to Database Management Systems, Big Data and Society, and IT and Organizations courses through the 2020-21 academic year. Haigh plans to continue using the Data Intelligence Project this year in her new course, Information Security, Disinformation, and Social Engineering.

The hands-on experience should help all students, she said, given that the ability to understand  and manipulate data has become a valuable skill set across a variety of fields, including public health, marketing and banking.

“This is what we need to do to prepare students to be data-literate,” Haigh said. “It’s a forward-looking approach for students.”

Susannah Barnes, who has a master’s degree in library and information science, from UWM, connected the School of Information Studies with Alation. Barnes uses Alation in her job as a senior data governance specialist at American Family Insurance.

Other universities interested The Data Intelligence Project are asked to apply through the initiative’s website.

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