Students Omar, Ahmed receive tuition funds from phData, Dataiku
Luck has nothing to do with data science students Sofia Omar ‘23 and Nejma Ahmed ‘24 receiving scholarships from phData and Dataiku, two organizations that recognize the importance of uplifting BIPOC women and nonbinary individuals in tech and data career fields.
What is Data Science?
The data science major is a newer program at St. Catherine University that combines mathematics, statistics, and computer science. Data science students work closely with classmates and faculty on collaborative research which includes data analysis, problem-solving, and critical thinking.
The St. Kate’s website states that “Data science as a field is clearly aligned with St. Kate’s mission, vision, and values, as we aim to place women in important roles as leaders, particularly in underrepresented fields. Today, only 26% of data professionals are women, and in 2014, only 13% of chief information officers were female (Better Buys, 2019).”
Director and professor of the data science program at St. Kate’s, Monica Brown and Dataiku’s Hannah Saraydeen discussed the importance of women in STEM fields.
“This scholarship encourages and supports our students to lead and influence through their passion for data science,” Brown says. “It shows the investment in the future of our young women leaders, helps ease the burden of paying for education, and encourages them to pursue their interests in data science. This is a very empowering message that companies and the real people that run them believe in their talents.”
Now, let’s meet the people and organizations that make these scholarships happen.
Meet the Organizations
phData is a data enablement company headquartered in Minneapolis that implements cloud data platforms, data engineering, analytics, and machine learning solutions for some of the world’s largest brands, empowering them to use their data more effectively and efficiently. To learn more about phData, visit their website.
I spoke with Marilou Chanrasmi, Director of Learning and Development at phData, to learn more about her passion and pursuit of initiating diversity into the workplace, especially when it comes to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Through the Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL), Chanrasmi met St. Catherine University’s very own May Thao-Schuck, EdD, and Radzinski Vice President of Career and Professional Development. They spent some time exploring ways they could work together to support womenㅡespecially BIPOC womenㅡin STEM fields.
“Partnering with St. Kate’s just seemed like a natural fit,” Chanrasmi said, before going on to explain that this scholarship funding is just the first component of what she hopes will grow into a larger partnership between the two organizations.
Chanrasmi, who has been in the technology field for some time, explained that it is generally a heavily male-dominated field, and women often decide not to go into STEM fields because there is an issue of access and lack of opportunities.
“Representation is important in any field, but in this particular industry, it is critically important to have diverse perspectives,” stated Chanrasmi. “In our line of work, people are creating new technologies, machine learning models, automation tools, and AI [artificial intelligence], so if our worldviews don’t represent more than one perspective, we could end up creating something that is biased and that’s something we want to avoid.”
Chanrasmi encourages readers to continue challenging themselves to learn more about diversity and what it meansㅡ because it’s more than just gender or ethnicity. There are many places we need to bring representation, and stressing the importance of BIPOC women in STEM fields is just one piece of the puzzle.
“If we’re not seeing women, or BIPOC women, in STEM fields, then how are students going to think about going into those fields?” Chanrasmi pointed out. “If I don’t see people like myself represented, how can I even imagine being in that career? This is why it is so important to have representation.”
Dataiku was established in 2013 by four founders that had the central goal of democratizing artificial intelligence (AI)一 in other words, helping businesses receive and understand data analytics on their companies, regardless of their background. Dataiku is committed to flexibility and openness in data collection, computation, monitoring, and much more. To learn more about Dataiku, visit their website.
I spoke with Josh Hewitt, Director of Academics at Dataiku to learn more about the company’s collaboration with St. Kate’s. He mentioned that he had known Chanrasmi previously from working with her at another company, SAS. She reached out to Hewitt to inquire if Dataiku would be interested in partnering with phData and St. Catherine University in connecting data science students with scholarships.
“She told me a little bit about St. Kate’s and some of the work that’s been happening there in the creation of a new data science program,” Hewitt says, going on to talk about how the institution has shown a clear desire to want to do more to help the field of data science grow in Minnesota and throughout the world. “Everything just really seemed to align and fit with what we wanted to do.”
So, Hewitt began meeting with the St. Kate’s team to discuss moving forward. He revealed that these meetings were very easy because the vision and goals of Dataiku and phData were consistently aligned with those at the university. Hewitt said that he was really excited for this partnership, not just with the scholarship, but also with the ability to connect students to his company’s platform, offerings, workshops, and potential mentoring opportunities.
Hewitt also expressed the importance of connecting women with opportunities in STEM fields such as those directly related to data science. He said that every person brings a unique perspective to their lives, including their work, and that we need that diversity of perspective in every field.
“We need those experiences in the workplace, in the collection of data, and in the questions that we are asking about the data being collected,” Hewitt remarked. “We want to have as well-rounded a view as possible, and that begins with representation.”
Meet the Scholarship Winners
The St. Kate’s team selected the phData and Dataiku scholarship recipients based upon financial need. Additionally, Brown says that supporting young women and students of color was also central to their decision.
Why did you choose to major in data science?
Sofia Omar ‘23 (Data Science): The first time I was introduced to anything related to the tech field was in middle school. My middle school was a STEM school, and we did a lot of technology-related activities in all of our classes. From then on, I knew I wanted to do something in the tech field. I also knew I wanted to follow my older sibling’s footsteps and go to St. Kate’s as they both had terrific experiences here. My older sister and I did some research and found that St. Kates had a Data Science major. As I did more research on Data Science, I fell in love with it, and became more interested in pursuing a major in this field.
Nejma Ahmed ‘24 (Data Science): I chose this major because I really want to get into the technology field and also want to gain skills in mathematics and programming.
What do you want to do with your data science degree?
Omar: I want to pursue a career in tech with my data science degree. I also want to show the younger generation of girls in my community that they can pursue a career in tech, too. I grew up thinking it wasn’t possible to pursue a STEM career because not many POC are in these fields.
Ahmed: Short-term, I want to use my degree to work and gain as much experience and knowledge about the technology industry as possible. In the long run, however, I want to become an entrepreneur and open my own tech business.
Please say something about your view of St. Kate’s and its role in educating women, particularly in STEM-related fields.
Omar: St. Kate’s being a small community, has helped me build relationships with my professors and advisors. I am not seen as just another number, but as a student. My professors and advisors believe in me and encourage me, and do anything it takes to help me pursue my academic goals.
Ahmed: One thing I want to say about the St. Kate’s community is that everybody (faculty, staff, other students) is supporting you and rooting for you to succeed and that is really amazing.
How do you feel about getting this scholarship?
Omar: When I received this scholarship, I needed it. My dad was the breadwinner of our family, but he had to stop working during the pandemic due to having an underlying health condition. So my siblings and I took over paying the bills for my family. I’ve dealt with a lot of stress trying to provide for my family and save for the fall semester. I was relieved and thankful for receiving this scholarship.
Ahmed: I am so grateful for this scholarship. When I received the email informing me that I had been awarded the scholarship, I was overwhelmed, because I was having a really tough time. It was such good news to hear and I will never forget this experience. I just want to say thank you to everyone who contributed.