Graduate Students Spend Summer Working for the Common Good

DS4CG zoom call

This summer, nine UMass Amherst graduate students will put their data science skills and experience to work helping organizations measure their carbon footprint, detect misinformation in public forums, analyze healthcare data on veterans, and automatically identify objects in images. The nine fellows participating in the Data Science for the Common Good (DS4CG) program, administered by the Center for Data Science (CDS), hail from diverse backgrounds, but all are passionate about using their skills for the public good. 

DS4CG is a summer program that matches graduate students with partner organizations to work together on a project that serves the public interest.

The nine students participating in this summer’s program are:

  • Dugan Becker
  • Augusto Espin Tobar
  • Ananya Gupta
  • Nazanin Jafari
  • Vaishnavi Kommaraju
  • Kshiti Mehta
  • Purity Mugambi
  • Smriti Murali
  • John Britto Nadar

Students work directly with the partner organizations over 12 weeks, mentored by CDS staff and professional data science volunteers. In addition to their project work, students receive training on communication, ethics and conflict resolution, as well as technical skills. This year’s partner organizations are the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), AuCoDe, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the UMass Classics department.

AMC is one of the leading science-based environmental conservation organizations on the East Coast and has ambitious goals to reduce its carbon footprint. The AMC project focuses on developing and testing new methods of measuring and predicting carbon emissions associated with guest travel and operation of AMC facilities, such as lodges, camps, cabins, and staff quarters. The fellows will develop models and visualizations of guest usage and staff operations, and implement prototype software modules that support decision-making related to energy savings, enabling AMC to both reduce and offset their carbon footprint in a data-driven manner.

AuCoDe is a startup company that automatically detects and analyzes online controversies. The AuCoDe team will explore applications of controversy detection technology on misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic found in public forums. By examining news coverage and public social media discourse using AuCoDe’s controversy detection technology, the DS4CG team will identify signals to detect, track, and understand the dynamics of coronavirus-related misinformation online and better inform the public.

The Department of Veterans Affairs operates one of the largest integrated healthcare systems in the United States. While it maintains a large repository of electronic health records, this raw data does not lend itself to analysis and research purposes. The VA project will focus on developing and validating algorithms to automatically extract characteristics and features from the data, such as diseases, treatments, and biomarkers. The project may also involve processing narrative data from physician notes. This work will help the VA generate insights into the treatment and care of patients.

Associate Professor Eric Poehler of the UMass classics department has thousands of photographic images of frescoed walls in Pompeii, the ancient city that was buried after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago. Each image has captions describing the objects included and other features. The Pompeii team will develop models to identify objects in the images, and then search images for objects that may not be mentioned in the captions. The team will also work on detecting unlabeled objects in images such as scaffolding or unwanted signage. The project results will vastly increase researchers’ ability to analyze and understand the archeology of Pompeii.

The DS4CG program runs from May 26 through August 14.