Feature Stories 2019: Sean Tocci ‘19: Using big data to help others

Sean Tocci standing in front of blooming tree
With a strong interest in coding, Sean Tocci '19 plans to use his data science studies to teach middle school math and develop apps that can help students learn. Photo credit: Dennis Fox, ’20
Feature Stories 2019: Sean Tocci ‘19: Using big data to help others
Sean Tocci ‘19: Using big data to help others

Data science major plans to teach middle school and create apps for struggling students

A data science major who plays water polo, is a member of the Red Cross Club, and learned American Sign language sounds like someone with a wide range of interests.

While that is surely the case for Sean Tocci ’19, he is graduating from UMass Dartmouth with a clear goal. “All I really knew was that I wanted to do something to help others,” he said.

Tocci considered a career in law enforcement but wasn’t sold on the idea. When he met Gary Davis, professor of mathematics, he learned how computers and data are used to help solve crimes. 

“That was what sold me. I saw that math had amazing abilities I just hadn’t seen before,” Tocci said.

“Data science, in short, is taking a lot of data and doing some machine learning or mathematical process and being able to present the results in a way that others can understand, which is very similar to teaching,” he added.

With a strong interest in coding, Tocci hopes “to create apps and websites that will advance the education system. My focus would be on math apps that help figure out where students are struggling and give them tools to unblock that path.

“My plans after graduation are to become a full-time math teacher at the middle school level while working on apps that I can implement to further the students’ education,” he said.

Summer research at WPI and the University of Michigan

Tocci has excelled as a data science major, earning a 3.85 GPA with Dean’s or Chancellor’s List honors every semester.

He has held summer internships at the Big Data Summer Institute at the University of Michigan and a Data Science Research Experience for Undergraduates at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). Both projects involved creating predictive models to predict serious illnesses.

“At WPI, the project was to try to create a model to identify at-risk patients for Hospital Acquired Infections using machine learning techniques. We worked in a small, two-person group with the help of a grad student advisor and two faculty in the computer science/data science department,” Tocci explained.

“At UMichigan, we worked in a group of five with a grad student and an advisor in the computer science and bioinformatics departments. We worked to create a model to predict Acute Respiratory Failure. We used recurrent neural networks to find trends in the time-series data,” he said.

His senior capstone project, “Predicting Injuries in the NBA,” involved using the national average of injuries in the NBA to predict whether a player will be injured for the next game.

“I had to scrap all the data I used from the Internet, which was a new skill that I never used before. I then had to clean and organize the data so that I could use it and find trends. It’s going great and really interesting,” Tocci said.

At UMass Dartmouth, data science is an interdisciplinary major that integrates mathematics and computer science. Tocci credits faculty from both departments, including Professor and Chair of Mathematics Saeja Kim, as well as Donghui Yan and Scott Field, both assistant professors of mathematics, who helped him with internships and career advice.

“One of my favorite teachers is Assistant Professor of Computer and Information Science Firas Khatib,” said Tocci. “His passion overflows into every lesson and he makes an 8 a.m. far more enjoyable. When data science students ask me which tech elective they should take, I don’t hesitate to tell them to take bioinformatics with Dr. Firas.”

Involved in wide range of campus activities

Tocci is president of the Chi Phi fraternity and is a four-year member of the intramural water polo team and Red Cross Club. He also participated in intramural soccer, the Outdoor Club, and the American Sign Language Club.

As a volunteer for the Red Cross Club, Tocci helped to organize and set up blood drives. He joined the sign language club after taking a sign language class in high school. “I saw that there was a club here and I wanted to get more involved,” he said.

After graduation, Tocci plans to begin teaching while working on his master’s degree.

“I really like to help people and I think I can make a bigger impact on the community by teaching and helping to empower youth,” he said.