Data Science Immersions: Building Connections and Networks

Author: Samantha Adamczewski

A speaker at Immersion gives a presentation.

As the program manager of Notre Dame’s online master’s in Data Science program, one of my key roles is to be a resource for the students. This role gives me the unique opportunity to hear first-hand from the students about their experiences in the program.

Throughout the year, I’ve heard constructive feedback from our students about our program, but the Immersions by far have been one of their most meaningful experiences. Their enthusiasm confirms what we know about the student learning experience.

At Notre Dame, when it comes to the student learning experience, we recognize the importance of in-person relationships and connections between students and professors for successful learning; therefore, we are committed to incorporating these experiences in our graduate program.

Immersions are a defining feature of our online MS-ACMS Data Science program because they embody some of the key characteristics that define the Notre Dame student experience. Our Immersions feature:

  • Activities and receptions that facilitate cohort bonding
  • Lectures from our world-class faculty on cutting-edge topics
  • Access to industry leaders including our collaborators
  • In-person connections with the renowned Notre Dame alumni

Immersions Enhance the Student Experience

The required Immersion at the program start takes place on the Notre Dame campus and provides our students with an invaluable opportunity to connect with their classmates, their faculty, and the university in person. These connections continue to flourish when our students leave campus and begin their classes online. This immersion is a chance for us to welcome the new class to the Notre Dame family.

In our recent information session, online data science master’s student Sarah Baylor shared the value of the August immersion experience and what it meant to her as she began the program. She said:

The Immersion gave me the opportunity to meet all of my classmates and professors before our classes started. Being in an online program, it was so nice to meet everyone face-to-face. Over the four days, we really did build a sense of community, so they weren’t just random people on a screen.”

The optional January Immersions are an opportunity for the cohort to reconvene, and hear from world-class Notre Dame faculty, industry leaders and leadership at AT&T. These exclusive weekends take place in cutting-edge spaces, where students interact privately with data science industry experts, including Notre Dame alumni and AT&T leaders.

In this blog, I’ll share some highlights of the recent optional January Immersion in Palo Alto.

Real-World Insights from Industry Leaders and Partners

Data security and data privacy were the focus on the first day of the Palo Alto Immersion. Karthik Swarnam, VP Security Architecture, AT&T opened with his keynote lecture. Swarnam’s in-depth technical discussion of network security was followed by a panel on the legal and ethical implications around data ethics, privacy, and security. The panelists included Notre Dame professors, Mike Chapple, Pat Flynn, and Mark McKenna, and AT&T’s Jose Agundez, AVP Technology, Big Data Security, and Business Development.

Students came away from the day with a deeper understanding of some of the most significant ethical challenges facing data science, the responsibility of data scientists to be good stewards of data who think critically about their access and use of data, and to remember the human element of data.

What It’s Like to Work as a Data Scientist

Leveraging the strength of the Notre Dame network, students had the opportunity on the second day to hear from an employer-panel featuring:

  • Jack Moore, Product Manager at Zaplabs
  • Ryan Welsh, Founder and CEO of Kyndi
  • Shane McCarthy, Senior Software Engineer at Uber
  • Laura Godlewski, a Data Scientist at Facebook
  • Pedro Alves, Founder and CEO of Ople
  • Pruthvi Shetty, a Data Scientist at SAP

In a lively Q&A, the panelists spoke candidly about getting a job in data science, the demands of the profession, and staying abreast of the ever-changing field. Some of the talking points included:

  • How to prepare for data science careers
  • Where to look for data science positions
  • Where the field of data science will be in 5 years
  • The importance of staying on the cusp of the technologies in data science
  • Industry demand for creativity and resourcefulness in data scientists
  • The importance of abandoning your ego and developing a questioning mindset
  • The variety of roles in data science
  • How to effectively partner with the members of your team
  • The necessity of storytelling and communication skills in data scientists

The opportunity to privately network with Notre Dame alumni in the area and participate in breakout sessions with speakers on the employer panel was the highlight for master’s student Mitch Speer and his fellow classmates on the second day of the Immersion.

In our recent information session, Speer said:

“The optional immersion was just mind-blowing for a lot of us. We got great insights and career advice from the people who are working in the field. To be in the epicenter of the data science world in Palo Alto, and networking with alumni and industry partners, is just a really neat part of the Notre Dame experience in this program.”

At Notre Dame, we not only collaborated with industry partners as we designed the program, we also invite them to share their insights and expertise about working in the data science field with our students. The January Immersions are a unique opportunity for students in our program to gain exclusive access to thought leaders in the data science industry.