The Using Cloud Technologies to Develop the Data Analysis Skills of Community College Students (UCTDDAS) project at Queensborough Community College (QCC) develops community college students’ data science/analysis and cloud computing skills to help them begin careers in finance, health care, or other high-tech fields.
During two joint interviews this spring via Zoom, Principal Investigator Monica Trujillo and Maria Mercedes Franco, key personnel for the Advanced Technological Education project, summarized what they and their colleagues—Esma Yildirim, co-principal investigator, and Yusuf Danisman, key personnel for the project—learned from the first cohort of 16 students. Trujillo is a professor in QCC’s Biological Sciences and Geology Department. Franco is a professor in QCC’s Department of Mathematics and Computer Sciences. Yildirim and Danisman are assistant professors in QCC’s Department of Mathematics and Computer Sciences.
The four QCC faculty members hope the information they learn through the project will provide ground work for starting an associate degree program in data science.
Student Boot Camp
The four-week summer boot camp covers basic statistics, cloud computing, data visualization, and machine learning. The curriculum developed with the project’s business and industry leadership team (BILT) uses project-based-learning and case studies. In addition to preparing for the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam, UCTDDAS boot camp participants choose from tracks for more intense lessons for technician roles with databases, bioinformatics, or big data and machine learning.
On July 31 the second cohort of students will begin attending in-person classes three days a week and meet virtually with professors two days a week. The 26 students enrolled in the 2023 boot camp include 14 females, 11 males, and one non-binary person. Ten participants are from historically marginalized race or ethnic populations.
The participants have diverse academic interests. While 15 are majoring in computer-related fields ranging from robotics to information security, others are majoring in art, biology, business administration/financial economics, environmental science, liberal arts (math and science) or are undecided about their major.
Those who complete the boot camp receive $1,000 stipends, which are funded by the ATE grant to offset the income the students lose while attending the boot camp.
After completing the boot camp, students are also offered authentic research opportunities to build their data science skills under the tutelage of faculty mentors during the academic year.
Six unique individuals who attended the 2022 boot camp engaged in research projects and/or independent studies during 2022-2023.
Three of the students received funding from the CUNY Research Scholars Program. A report from project leaders stated that two of those students’ projects “focused on stock price data to explore the effects of various cross-validation techniques; one student considered the performance of machine-learning classifications and the other focused on regression algorithms.” Danisman mentored the students who worked on these projects.
The third funded project focused on “the use of neural networks for end-to-end data transfer throughput predictions in the cloud.” Without funding, another student completed a research project that “explored the use of neural networks when solving the problem of replica selection in the cloud.” Yildirim mentored the students who worked on these projects.
Five of the six students took an independent study with Danisman. This two-credit course focused on machine learning “and covered algorithms, data engineering and model evaluation.”
Faculty Professional Development
During the 2022-2023 academic year, the project also offered faculty workshops on how to incorporate data science into their lessons and research, and how to use the programming language Python. Twenty-six QCC instructors have indicated interest in using the project’s model for incorporating data science in a wide array of courses.
The project’s webinars for the entire college community have featured data science professionals—including several QCC alumni—talking about their jobs, entrepreneurship, innovation, resume-writing, and interview skills.
The boot camp participants also had a virtual meeting with seven members of the project’s BILT, including a biotech researcher, neuroscientist, entrepreneur, data scientist, a software engineer, and a partnership leader at a technology-focused civic organization. “We just wanted the BILT to be there and start meeting the students,” Franco said.
Franco explained that project leaders would like the students to see the BILT members as important resources. Some of the BILT members may eventually serve as mentors or co-mentors for the research projects offered during the academic year or as sources for internships and/or jobs when students are ready to enter the workforce.
Franco leads the project’s recruitment efforts that in spring 2023 focused on personalized messaging to students taking math courses that align with data analysis, those in the general education computer science course (as well as those taking the introductory computer science course for STEM majors), and students majoring in engineering technology and business.
Findings & Modifications
All 16 of the students who started the boot camp in the summer of 2022 completed it. However, only eight students passed the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam, and only one of those students was a female. The team shared the following findings and how they responded to them since last summer.
Finding #1: The students who passed the exam for the highly valued industry credential—which can lead to entry-level data science employment—were more prepared before starting the boot camp. Many of the female students were also less confident and put off taking the AWS exam with plans to prepare more on their own. This summer’s boot camp will provide more support to the female students and encourage them to take the exam immediately upon completion of the boot camp. The curriculum will also touch more deeply on topics covered on the exam, but mentioned only briefly in Amazon’s exam preparation materials.
Finding #2: The students who were less proficient in Python reported that they appreciated when the more advanced students helped them. Interestingly, two male boot camp participants started QCC’s chapter of the National Student Data Corps since last summer. So at this summer’s boot camp peer mentoring will be formalized. In addition, Danisman created an online Python course for students who have less coding experience to take before the boot camp.
Finding #3: Only six of the 16 students in the first boot camp cohort chose to engage in research and/or independent studies during the academic year. More students and faculty were interested in pursuing research, but could not afford to do it. So the project’s leaders have obtained supplemental funding from the National Science Foundation to support student research projects during 2023-2024.