Feature Stories 2023: Meet the Big Data Club

The Big Data Club members pose with their medals at DataFest
DataFest 2023
Feature Stories 2023: Meet the Big Data Club
Meet the Big Data Club

The Big Data Club at UMassD invites students to explore the world through the lens of data

Data science is one of the fastest-growing fields, with data scientist employment projected to grow 35% between 2022-2032. Even outside the field of data science, the role of big data is becoming increasingly important for organizations across all industries.  

At UMassD, students in all majors can explore the world of data with the Big Data Club. Club president John Willy '24, a computer science major, explains what the club has to offer the campus community.  

What is the Big Data Club? 

"The purpose of the Big Data Club is to give students interested in data science a place to meet up and collaborate. Students teach and learn from each other. Upper-level undergrads and grad students teach younger students, sharing different kinds of skills they might not get from their classes.  

"The other function of the club is for members to work on client projects, getting real-world experience using data to solve problems. Clients might be local companies and organizations, or individuals on campus who need help with a data-related problem or research project.   

"The third major function of the club is to compete at DataFest. DataFest is a competition held each year in the spring between UMass Dartmouth, Stonehill College, Bridgewater State University, and Bryant University. The competition begins on a Friday afternoon and continues throughout the weekend. Teams from each of the four schools receive a data set they must analyze and interpret. Prizes are awarded for Best Use of External Data, Best Data Visualization, and Best Data Insight. UMassD has won Best Data Visualization 5 years in a row. In 2022, we also won Best Data Insight."  

Why did you decide to join the Big Data Club? 

"My first year of college was during the COVID-19 pandemic, so I was looking for ways to meet people, and I was interested in data.  

"When I attended my first meeting, I was so impressed by the club officers and upperclassmen. It was the first time I had seen practical applications of what I had just started learning about in class. I saw that data wasn't just for solving puzzles but for solving real problems and achieving goals. I was inspired by seeing all the things made possible by data.   

"I became president of the club in my junior year. It's a lot of work running weekly meetings, talking with prospective students at campus events, and creating interesting experiences for members, but it's also really rewarding. As president, you know every person in the group."  

Who are the club members? 

"There are about 30 of us in total. It's a mix of undergraduate and graduate students in data science, computer science, and business. All majors are welcome." 

What are some examples of some projects you've done? 

"As a freshman, I did a project for AARP. They have a safe driver training program and needed a data management system for their courses. We've also created a dashboard of offshore wind employment data for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC). We've recently been working on a Kaggle project where we are using various methods to determine if an essay was written by an AI or a high school student.

"Sometimes we do internal projects based on a topic of interest. This might be immigration patterns based on government agency data, or predictions about drinkable water in different communities. Whatever you're interested in, data can help you understand it better." 

Students in the Big Data Club lined up for a group photo
President John Willy and members of the Big Data Club

Anything else you want to share with the campus community?  

"The Big Data Club is a good space for professionals who work with data to give presentations to teach members about their work. We also welcome students and capstone teams to come and present their projects to us and get feedback.  

"Overall, the club is a great way to get to know people and make good friends."  

What do you hope to do with data in your career?  

"I hope to become a software engineer. I enjoy building things and solving problems, and software is all about solving problems." 

What is most exciting to you about harnessing big data? 

"When working with data you learn data science skills, but you also learn about the subject matter of the project you're working on. For example, during the last DataFest we looked at legal data, including communications between attorneys and clients. We delved into trending legal topics by state, and the issues and sentiments of those discussions.  

"I'm fascinated by all the things that can be done with data. Data can provide new insights and new ways of looking at old issues." 

The BS in Data Science and MS in Data Science are among the fastest growing programs at UMassD. Programs in data science are offered jointly by the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences.