Student’s Independent Study Leads to Interest in Data Analytics Career

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Thomas Ortega’s comparison of sunspot data with New York City metropolitan area temperatures since the 1930s was one of 30 student scientific posters showcased at the 2020 Virtual ATE Conference.

His authentic research findings reflected both his commitment to investigating a scientific question as well as the dynamic qualities of Kelly Fitzpatrick, associate professor of mathematics at County College of Morris (CCM) in Randolph, New Jersey, who guided his data analysis.

Fitzpatrick took Ortega and his independent study under her wing in the spring 2020 right about the time she received her first Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grant award for the project entitled Expanding Pathways to a Data Science Career by Developing a Certification in Data Science and Analytics (Award # 2000887).

Fitzpatrick taught Ortega the programming language R, which he used to analyze the data he retrieved from online government sources. This fall he took the Introduction to Data Science course that Fitzpatrick created over the summer.

“It was written and ready to go,” Fitzpatrick said matter-of-factly when asked about the quick launch of the new course—the first of the five-course certificate. Despite COVID-related challenges Fitzpatrick and her colleagues on the project team have already accomplished many of the Year 1 goals of the project that aims to prepare students for entry-level data analytics positions.

Photograph of Kelly Fitzpatrick, Associate Professor of Mathematics at County College of Morris

Photograph of Kelly Fitzpatrick, Associate Professor of Mathematics at County College of Morris

Photograph of Thomas Ortega, student at County College of Morris

Photograph of Thomas Ortega, student at County College of Morris

Novice ATE Principal Investigator Hits the Ground Running 

Since April, Fitzpatrick has worked with colleagues from the math, engineering technology, business, and computer science departments to develop the curriculum of the 16-credit Data Analytics Certificate—which is awaiting approval by college trustees and state officials.

Nancy Binowski, associate professor of information technologies and co-principal investigator of the ATE project created the data science programming class slated to run Spring 2021 and Joshua Denholtz created the machine learning course.

Fitzpatrick also organized the Data Science Summit held on November 7 with the Mathematics Association of Two-Year Colleges of New Jersey (MATYCNJ).  Fitzpatrick is president of MATYCNJ and this first-time summit was something she had written into the project’s dissemination plan. (Eighty-eight people from six states attended the virtual conference. Hadley Wickam, chief scientist at RStudio, was the keynote speaker.)

Fitzpatrick made a presentation in October at the 2020 Virtual ATE Conference on data visualization in Tableau and facilitated two female students attending Women in Data Science Conference. The ATE grant supported their participation in the conference as well as Ortega’s in the ATE Conference.

Interestingly, Ortega is now planning to pursue a data science and analytics career rather than astrophysics, which was his intent when he began exploring possible connections between sunspots and Earth temperature fluctuations. “My hope is to find a job in the field of data science. The research project heavily influenced my choice to pursue data science,” Ortega explained in an email.

Family & CCM Faculty Assist Student’s Research

Ortega sought out an independent research project at the urging of his brother, Christopher, who graduated from CCM in 2016 with an A.S. degree in biology and has since then earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Drew University. Christopher advised him that doing an undergraduate research experience would be a valuable career asset.

“I wanted to get some experience working in an academic environment. Also, I wanted to be able to attach something to my resume,” Ortega wrote in an email. CCM faculty and his brother provided critical support for this effort.

Ortega explained that he began by asking Robert Duffin, an assistant professor of engineering technologies at CCM, about possible research topics. Duffin told him about his studies of sunspot cycles. Then he and Duffin talked with Fitzpatrick about the data he would need to gather and how to analyze it. His brother also helped by finding Abrupt Climate Change, a 2002 National Research Council report, in the Drew University library. Ortega found this report “intriguing.”

At Duffin’s direction Ortega gathered sunspot data from the Sunspot Index and Long-term Solar Observation (SILSO), a department of the Royal Observatory of Belgium. His temperature data is from the National Weather Service Forecast Office’s readings from Central Park in New York City, Newark Liberty Airport in urban New Jersey, and Bridgehampton, a Long Island hamlet, from 1931 to 2019.

After separately charting both data sets, Ortega combined the sunspot activity information with the average temperature data and concluded “that there is no significant correlation between the temperatures and the number of sunspots.”

His poster contains this caveat: “However, the project is not a comprehensive model that effectively accounts for variables not discussed, so it is possible that a correlation can still be made.”

A key thing that Ortega reported learning while making the poster is that his comparison graphs are packed with so much data that they are hard to read. He now knows from first-hand experience: “To make an effective graph with complex information, a large amount of time must be devoted to making sure the data chosen is properly set.”

Ortega may continue the study using other computer languages, but his key research finding is a personal one. “For my own career path, I now have a larger interest in the data science industry, and I have decided to look at other types of computer-based languages,” he stated in the conclusion section of his poster.

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Last Edited: February 22nd at 9:40am by Madeline Patton

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