College of Science launches Data Science Camp for high school students
Nearly 40 high school students from across the country gathered on Virginia Tech’s campus in July to take part in the inaugural Explore Data Science camp, hosted by the College of Science.
Targeted toward rising juniors and seniors, Explore Data Science was one of four camps held by the College of Science this summer. Specialized physical science and life science camps also were offered to high school juniors and seniors, while a general science camp was designed for rising seventh through ninth graders.
Explore Data Science provided an introduction to the growing field of data science, a transdisciplinary field that draws upon concepts of statistics, mathematics, and computer and information science to extract knowledge and insight from data.
“We created the data science camp because high school students don’t have much exposure to data analytics in their schools,” said Victoria Corbin, assistant dean of outreach and student engagement in the College of Science.
During the three-day camp, Virginia Tech experts presented students with hands-on experiences collecting, analyzing, and presenting data across different disciplines with topics covering the spectrum from psychology and statistics to geoscience and game theory.
One standout activity was the statapult exercise, led by Jennifer Van Mullekom and students from the Statistical Applications and Innovations Group (SAIG). Designed as a competition, campers were tasked with using a mini-catapult to “rescue Charlie, the world’s most amazing data scientist, from her captors, the Evil Triumvirate of Analog.”
SAIG volunteers guided the campers through the exercise, which required them to determine the optimal conditions to launch a ball a set distance with the mini-catapults. Using a systematic approach, campers experimented with different variables to achieve their target distance.
“I thought it was really interesting,” said Jocelyn Chan, a rising senior from Fairfax, Virginia, who arrived at this summer’s camp as an aspiring data science major. “It was a good balance between lecture and an actual hands-on activity.”
“I thought it was pretty fun,” added Kyle Oimoen, a rising junior from Springfield, Virginia. “It was something new I’ve never really done before.”
Not only did students find the activity fun and creative, they learned about the sequential design of experiments along the way.
“I think it’s important for students to learn about designed experiments because it focuses on systematically collecting data through an experimental study,” said Van Mullekom, director of SAIG and associate professor of practice in the Department of Statistics. “Those skills translate to data science and help develop critical thinking skills about observational data, which often determine the success or failure of a data science project.”
Teaching students about data science concepts was just one goal of the camp. According to Corbin, another primary objective was to highlight some of the exciting opportunities for college majors and careers in the field of data science. Activities held throughout the camp demonstrated how broadly data science is used, while a career panel featuring data science experts across multiple disciplines provided additional perspective.
While just in its first year, Explore Data Science was undeniably a success, Corbin said. “The campers really seemed to love the science part, and they made friends with like-minded kids from across the country. It was great.”