MCPS Students Learn Data Science and More at MC During the Summer Months
Summer offers opportunities for leisure but also for enrichment and exploration of outside of school interests. That’s what the Summer RISE program offers for rising juniors and seniors at Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). Students can participate in career-based learning opportunities and engage in hands-on learning related to their fields of interest.
This summer, three MCPS students came to Montgomery College to learn about data science from faculty host Rachel Saidi, professor of mathematics, statistics, and data science, and data science program director at MC. Data scientists use analytical tools and techniques to extract meaningful insights from data.
“We focused on global access to safe drinking water globally,” Saidi said. The group found and combined different data sets and other variables, such as income level of different regions of the world. Using R Studio and Tableau Public, data science platforms, they created data visualizations and regression models to create predictions about life expectancy.
“They’re learning a ton of programming, going through all sorts of wormholes, and getting stuck everywhere--which is really fun,” Saidi said.
Rohun Sarkar is a rising senior at Poolesville High School and a returning Summer RISE student. “Last year I came in knowing nothing and then [professor Saidi] taught us multiple ways to represent and visualize data. That’s not something that is usually shown in regular computer science, so I thought it would be good to come back and expand even more on what I had learned,” he said.
One of Saidi’s goals was to have them hone their communications skills in addition to their technical skills. “Data science really does infuse those soft skills of communication. You need to effectively explain your work to somebody who may not have any background knowledge of it. And it can be interdisciplinary,” she said. She had the students create a newsletter with data science incorporated.
Learning soft skills was partly what motivated Joshewa Assefa, a 17-year-old rising senior, to join the program. Assefa said he is not usually an outgoing person, but the program required him to work as part of a team, which helped him out of his comfort zone. He also learned that data science can be a great tool for cutting through predetermined ideas: “I found data to be a way to help people see what they can’t see.”
Tarun Tammali, a rising junior at Clarksburg High School, said he has been interested in technology since he was very young, especially in AI and computer science. “This data science program is very similar to computer science. It’s looking at data and issues in the world. AI is changing and developing still, and we need to explore more into that world and see how it can change people’s lives in the future, how businesses operate, how homes are changed (such as with smart homes). It’s very interesting to me.”
Sarkar, Assefa, and Tammali discovered data science as an offshoot of their interest in computer science. In terms of potential for career development, their timing couldn’t be better: employment of data scientists is projected to grow 36% from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These labor market prospects may increase with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). AI uses data science to build training data that feeds its models, such as the ChatGPT, an advanced large language model that debuted in late 2022.
Summer RISE students also participated in two other programs at Montgomery College under faculty hosts: automotive technology, and chemical and biological sciences.
The initiative is led by the MCPS Department of Partnerships in collaboration with businesses, government agencies, higher education institutions, including Montgomery College, and nonprofit organizations. Summer RISE ran for five weeks and comprised at least 50 hours of in-person, virtual, or hybrid learning.