Dancing like data scientists

Sarah Rothfleisch
October 22, 2019

LEWISBURG, Pa. — According to the National Center for Women in Information Technology, just 26% of computing and mathematical jobs are held by women. The College of Information Sciences and Technology, and a group of its current students, are working to increase those numbers. Earlier this month, several College of IST students developed and led a workshop designed to educate young women about the possibilities of a career in data sciences.

The workshop — called Dance Like a Data Scientist — aimed to teach young women that while STEAM encompasses science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, it involves much more than just numbers and coding. Dance Like a Data Scientist was part of a day of exploration and discovery at the Girl Scouts in the Heart of PA’s STEAM Expo on Oct. 12 — which nearly 400 Girl Scouts in kindergarten through 12th grade attended to learn more about STEAM fields.

The workshop highlighted what it means to be a data scientist and taught fun ways that data science can be implemented in everyday lives.

Leah Miller, junior in data sciences, shares a common background with other young women interested in data sciences. She always expressed an interest in math and science, but these classes were dominated by her male peers and she wasn’t sure if it was the right path for her. Then, she attended a “Women in STEM” fair at her middle school where she listened to a speaker talk about her career in data science and fell in love.

As part of her internship in the College of IST’s Office of Undergraduate Recruiting and Student Engagement, Miller worked with fellow College of IST students Jess Tatone, senior in security and risk analysis, and Lamar Russ, junior in cybersecurity, to develop the Dance Like a Data Scientist event. Their goal was to help girls learn more about their options in data sciences, just as Miller had been introduced to STEAM as a young girl.

The 20-minute workshop presented the girls with a challenge to work through a problem using data by collecting data, analyzing it to find patterns, proposing possible solutions, testing those solutions, and then repeating the process to discover a conclusion.

To make it fun, the girls were presented with the challenge of finding ways to out dance the Nittany Lion and come up with ways they could improve their dance scores.

 “What we did is give each girl a pedometer and have her dance for a short amount of time and try to beat the Nittany Lion’s score,” explained Miller. “Then, we recorded that data and helped them come up with ways to improve their scores. This taught them how to assign value to and make sense of data that had no value before.”

Miller, Tatone and Russ all have passion for paying it forward for future generations because they know the difficulties associated with being part of an underrepresented group in the STEM field.

According to Tatone, “There are a lot of guys in most of my classes, and not very many girls. Whenever we do group work, I sometimes feel intimidated and feel like I may not be listened to and taken seriously, but I always try to remind myself that I got here because I deserved it. So, I just prove myself through my work.”

Youth programs like the STEAM Expo are designed to empower students to pursue an interest, education or career in fields that lack diversity. According to Forbes, men hold 76% of technical jobs, and 95% of the tech workforce is white.    

As a person of color, Russ said he faces a similar set of challenges of being part of an underrepresented group that his female counterparts do. At Penn State, Russ serves as president of Dance Dance Maniacs. The student organization serves as a caveat for students to come together to show off their dance moves using popular virtual games, such as Dance Dance Revolution and In The Groove.

This passion for dance, blended with what Russ is learning in the College of IST, is what inspired him to participate in developing the Dance Like a Data Scientist workshop.

“There are a lot of micro-aggressions you deal with when you’re a part of an underrepresented group in any organization, class or group,” said Russ. “I want people to learn about diversity and the impact it can have.”

For Miller, Russ and Tatone, events like Dance Like a Data Scientist are of a personal investment. Each of them know the feeling of being underrepresented in the technology field, and they all understand the impact that increased diversity can make.

“More diversity just means that there’s more variation in the number of voices adding to the conversation and more knowledge being shared,” said Tatone. “That’s always a good thing.”

Miller traveled to the STEAM Expo at Bucknell University on Oct. 12 to facilitate the Dance Like a Data Scienctist Workshop, along with fellow College of Information Sciences students Rendell Shipp, Sunny Yu, Jonathan Santana and Brinda Iyer.

Last Updated October 23, 2019