Big Opportunities for Students Working With Big Data: OC’s New Data Jam Team

Maura Sheedy '16, Staff Writer

In coalition with OC’s technology initiative and emphasis on the future of “big data”, OC is debuting two teams to be a part of the “Data Jam” competition this spring. You may recall the presentation held at OC a few weeks ago on the topic of big data- data that technology collects from users in order to customize setting and preferences. Mr. Williams, one of the club’s moderators, explained that though big data will change our world even more so in the future, it is already affecting our lives today. With each search on Google, every skip on Spotify, and every addition to your queue on Netflix, technology-based companies collect information on its users. Data jam attempts to teach high schoolers how to collect and use the information in a way that mimics what internet-based companies are also doing in the field of data science.

Data Jam allows participants to discover a problem and find a solution by use of data analysis. Specifically for Data Jam, this means looking for trends in a certain region that may contribute to a certain situation. For example, the winning team last year studied the correlation between liquor licenses and crime rate. Students select a topic, research thoroughly, and then use technology such as excel and a program called tableau as well as math skills, such as statistics, to create a poster presentation of their findings. Judges from various Pittsburgh companies select the winners. Since Data Jam is based in Pittsburgh and is open for Pittsburgh-area high schools to participate, the projects are highly suggested to feature problems and solutions in Pittsburgh areas or regions.

Leading the Oakland Catholic students will be math teachers Mrs. Carvellas and Mrs. Blackmond as well as history teacher Mr. Williams. Data jam relies heavily on math and technology skills, but Mr. William’s history expertise brings a different skillset to the table. According to Mr. Williams, history is the original data analysis since it involves looking at past events in order to predict the future, just like data analysis. The fact that data analysis utilizes so many different subject fields and specialties makes it a desirable activity for students to take part in. Beginning research in December, working through the second and third quarter, squeezing in some field-trips during the winter, students will be ready to go by the time the contest take place in early spring.

Students partaking in the project will be nurturing teamwork skills, research expertise, and problem-solving abilities, all-important characteristics of a future employee. Mr. Williams says that simply having a background with data analysis could be an excellent asset in college and beyond, since “big data” is only increasingly being used. Students rarely get chances to analyze such large quantities of data in a real-life way as well. The field of data analysis is growing as its own skillset as well. Careers in this field have potential to make a six-figure salary while transforming how the internet is being used. By participating in data jam, students develop these skills and more, all while having fun. OC is very excited about the new program and wishes the team luck as they begin.