Engineering students go to Chicago for advanced computing challenge
Two civil engineering students have a newfound appreciation for data and its importance in influencing positive social change following an intensive off-island computing challenge.
Michelle Luces and Ervin Pascual were among 20 students nationwide selected to participate in a one-week program — the Advanced Computing for Social Change event, held this past summer in Chicago. The program offers a unique opportunity for undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds to work together and gain experience in finding and analyzing large data sets and using data visualization techniques to best communicate the results to the general public.
The event presents a socially relevant topic, and students are divided into teams and tasked to look through data and present their hypothesis and potential solution to the topic, while integrating their personal experiences and cultural backgrounds.
This year’s theme was “Maternal and Infant Morbidity and Mortality in the United States.”
“We had to identify challenges that may affect maternal and infant mortality,” Luces said. “After formulating a hypothesis, we had to find data supporting our claim and present our findings through data visualizations. I focused on how diabetes and obesity affect the fertility rate and fatal deaths on Guam.”
Luces’ team found that there was no correlation between the two.
Pascual’s hypothesis was that lack of health insurance coverage contributed to a higher infant mortality rate.
“Guam’s infant mortality rate is high and twice that of the national average,” he said. “From the data … I found some correlations. There was a positive correlation between people with health insurance and infant deaths. Intuitively, we think more coverage of health insurance would mean fewer infant deaths, but the data disagreed.”
The two students were accompanied by fellow engineering student and mentor Nilo Espinoza, whose experience at a similar computing event last November led to the opportunity for UOG students to apply for the ACSC event.
“ACSC allowed me to learn how to make sense of so many numbers and transform those numbers into presentable models to deliver understandable messages,” Pascual said. “I also learned how to make the most of what I had in data because Guam does not have public data richly available when compared to data available from the mainland. The students who did topics from the mainland, it was better for them, but Michelle and I took a little bit longer in finding sufficient data for our projects.”
He said he also gained confidence in speaking and in presenting his findings.
Luces said the experience gave her a deeper understanding of what data science is.
“I learned the importance of data, how to use it to my advantage, and where to look for it,” she said. “I had the opportunity to get familiar with the programs they use for reading big data sets and creating data visualizations.”
Luces is in her sophomore year at the University of Guam and hopes to have a career in research after she graduates. Pascual is in his junior year and is looking forward to being a civil engineer in Guam.
The ACSC event is held annually at the Practice & Experience in Advanced Research Computing conference and hosted by the Texas Advanced Computing Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the Extreme Science & Engineering Discovery Environment organization, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.
Applications for the next Advanced Computing for Social Change event are now being accepted. The event will be held at the PEARC20 conference from July 26–30 in Portland, Ore.
Students from all undergraduate backgrounds are eligible, with preference being given
to sophomores and juniors and to women, minorities, and students from majors outside
of computer science. Airfare, lodging, meals, and conference registration are all
Applications are due on March 1, 2020, and students will be notified of acceptance by June.