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Students Use Data Internship to Solve Real-World Problems

To some, the words “big data” and “analytics” may have seemingly become buzzwords of the current generation, but what does it all mean? Most importantly, how does it affect Average Joe and Jane?

Insert the Atlanta Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) program, where engineers speak human.

“We are working on problems that are really impacting many people in the world,” said DSSG Co-Director Ellen Zegura.

DSSG is an intensive, ten-week internship experience that blends data science and technology design.

Students were placed on multi-disciplinary teams and matched with a supervising professor to address real-world problems for partners in the City of Atlanta and local non-profit organizations.

“The program takes the latest advances within the area of data sciences and puts them together with the kinds of problems that are being faced in communities and cities,” said Zegura.

The Atlanta DSSG program is now in its third year and is modeled after a highly successful program in Chicago that started in Summer 2013. 

“What the students get is really the ability to understand how to communicate data problems with organizations that aren’t coming at this with a high-level technical background,” said DSSG Co-Director Christopher Le Dantec.

The goal of the DSSG program is to give students an opportunity to solve a real problem in a real context and to give partners an opportunity to tap the skills and ingenuity of a student team.

“It’s important to not only create something that’s innovative, but also have the know how to convey the purpose of it and have other people understand why it’s important,” said DSSG Intern Mizzani Walker-Holmes.

Walker-Holmes is a rising senior at Kennesaw State University and majoring in computer information and network security.

She was introduced to the DSSG program by one of her professors. Walker-Holmes says the program has helped develop her technical as well as soft skills, such as communication.

Teams included technical expertise and public policy expertise for an interdisciplinary approach. Problems came from domains such as transportation, energy, smart urban development, sustainability, food systems, etc.

Atlanta DSSG industry partners are joyful to see students being exposed to the many career avenues where data analytics can have beneficial social impact.

“Some of these apps will be used by the actual agencies, so that means they’re really influencing people’s lives. That’s something you don’t always get in a pure research setting and I think it helps society as well as students,” said South Big Data Regional Innovation Hub Co-Executive Director Renata Rawlings-Goss.

“The labor pool is short. We need a lot of talented students and so for Georgia Tech to give students this opportunity over a 10-week period to really stretch themselves, to learn a lot and really get integrated into the community, that’s huge,” said LexisNexis Community Affairs Director Monica Garrett.

As for Walker-Holmes, she plans to take advantage of the DSSG network of students, mentors, professors, and projects taking place around the United States.

“Georgia Tech, in my opinion, has a reputation of excellence. I’m very proud to say I was a Data Science for Social Good intern,” she said.