Data Science Scholars Program is opening career pathways for more women and underrepresented students

 

Dallas (SMU) – A groundbreaking new collaboration between telecommunications giant AT&T and SMU is going to deliver high-level training, practical experience and a potential employment offer in the field of data science for a group of university students who are spending the summer together both in the classroom and on the job.

AT&T is covering the cost of the training for the students and for the overlapping on-site internship. After the program ends, each participant who earns an SMU certificate for completing the on-campus boot camp and the internship will receive interviews for permanent positions with AT&T after graduation.

“We’ve had interns for years, but we’ve never really done a boot camp where we actually have the formal training using the Artificial Intelligence tools we use here internally at AT&T and then collaborate on projects, too,” said Mark Austin, AT&T’s vice president for data science. “So, this is unique, and we’re excited about it.”

Students of the AT&T Data Science Scholars Program present their findings to faculty and AT&T representatives, Friday, June 17, 2022 in the Gerald J. Ford Research and Innovation Building on the SMU Campus. [Photo: SMU]

The nine students selected for the program are spending half of the summer in an SMU classroom led by Dr. Bivin Sadler, technical assistant professor and course lead faculty for SMU’s online Master of Science in Data Science program. Part of that “boot camp” experience includes a competition between the students, divided into teams, working to solve problems presented by their AT&T mentors. Following the SMU instruction, the group will head to AT&T offices for the second half of the summer to work with the massive data sets and corporate-level challenges that are bread-and-butter to the communication company’s own data science group.

“I haven’t seen anything like this”, Sadler said, “but I’ve dreamt of something like this – where academics and industry blend together with so much passion.”

“We will actually have them on site,” Austin said, adding that the same AT&T data scientists mentoring students at the boot camp will also serve as their mentors when they begin the internship portion of the program. “They have some passionate projects they’d love to get done, and they’re going to be working together on those projects.”

AT&T’s vice president for data science Mark Austin shakes hands with a Southern Methodist University student. [Photo: Guy Rogers III]

AT&T was also able to attract a diverse set of candidates. Demand for data scientists is expected to increase by 22 percent over the next decade, according to estimates by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, Black and Hispanic workers remain underrepresented in the STEM workforce. Women – who now earn the majority of undergraduate and advanced degrees – are significantly underrepresented in computer science fields.

The Data Science Scholars are a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, pursuing degrees in various STEM fields – data science, statistics, math and engineering.

“Data science is a team sport,” Austin said, adding that different perspectives and experiences increase the odds for success. “On the team, we always have a business expert, we have someone who is really good at the coding piece and the engineering piece, and sometimes we have someone who is really good at visualization.  Putting those together and making them work as a team is the key to success.”

Student participants in the program are:

  • Sydney Holder, pursuing an MS in applied statistics and data science
  • Eugenia Mendez, pursuing a BS in computer science and data science
  • Jordan Terrazas, pursuing a BS in mathematics
  • Tania Cuff, pursuing a BS in management science and data science and an MA in sustainability and development
  • Dongchan (John) Jo, pursuing a BS in computer science
  • Landon Ryden, pursuing a BS in statistical science and economics
  • Amberly Rodriguez, pursuing a BS in operations research and engineering management
  • Hien Lam, pursuing an MS in data science
  • Amayrani Luna, pursuing a BA in creative computing

SMU engineering student Rodriguez said she was approached by Sadler about joining the summer program.

“It was such an amazing opportunity – I’d never heard about anything like it,” Rodriguez said.  “I wasn’t too sure I’d get in – I didn’t feel like I had that much experience, but I’m really happy AT&T took a chance on me – I am learning so much and I am so happy to be in this program.”

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Interested in collaborating with SMU on a program with your organization? Learn more about custom internship opportunities or contact Terry Teague, senior director of corporate partnerships for SMU Global, Online and Continuing Education at tlteague@smu.edu or 214-768-1018.