Women are employed in all workplaces, but are still greatly underrepresented, particularly in STEM fields. The 2017 State of Data Science and Machine Learning survey from Kaggle found that women represented just over 16% of the total respondents. Other reports have found that only 18% of data scientist roles are occupied by women, with less than 3% of the tech field being filled by women of color!
It was in this context that, in collaboration with Women in Data Science (Stanford University) and the New Haven Public Schools, we launched “Data Days”, an event tailored to sparking interest in data science among middle school girls. With the surge in interest in data science, now is a better time than ever to promote more women entering the field. And what better a time to start encouraging girls than middle school? A survey funded by Microsoft found that girls typically become interested in STEM subjects around age 11, and begin to lose interest around the age of 15 -- making middle school a vital time for interest outreach.
What was Data Days?
The inaugural Data Days was a two-day event hosted at King-Robinson Middle School in New Haven, CT. The event featured panels, keynote speakers and hands-on workshops, creating an inviting space for 50+ young girls to learn about and explore data science, both as a career, and as a generally widely useful toolset. 15 amazing data scientist volunteers joined us as group mentors for the event.
What was the feedback on the event?
Positive! We surveyed both the students and their group mentors before and after the event to gauge event impact. Overall, the students rated the event a 4.2/6 on average, saying the event gave them a positive impression of data science on a score of 4.4/6, and were 7/10 likely to recommend the event.
“I loved listening to the data scientist stories about how they got to be where they are and I loved how they explained the importance of data science.”
8th Grade Student
Mentor feedback expressed that the event was “refreshing”, and being able to impart knowledge of their field was “just epic”. They felt the curriculum and presentations were well structured and designed, and that “the girls got a good sense of what data science is and the importance of visualizations”. The mentors were generally very enthusiastic about the event and its impacts. 100% of the mentors responded to the survey stating that they would be interested in Data Days again in the future!
“It was so refreshing. I love kids and imparting knowledge of my field to them was just epic.”
Data Days Mentor
What was the impact of the event on students?
We saw a statistically significant increase in both interest in and familiarity with data science among students after the event! The group of students reported a 2.9/6 initial interest in data science, which increased by 24% to a 3.6/6 interest on average after the event. Of the 26 student respondents, 96% (25 total) said their interest in data science increased and 100% said their familiarity with data science increased. Average familiarity with data science, initially 2.3/6, increased by 74% to 4/6 familiarity.
“I liked how we started off really confused… but ended up coming up with a huge output.”
8th Grade Student
The students reported gaining new skills in data science, an awareness of datasets, confidence, and connections to role models/mentors after Data Days.
What exactly did the Data Days programming look like?
Data Days started off with a general session, introducing the group of middle school girls to data science on a broad level. New Haven’s instructional superintendent Keisha Redd-Hannans, whose enthusiasm and efforts were instrumental to the program, welcomed the students at the start of the event. The students then heard from Brigette Davis, Doctoral Candidate and Public Health Research Scholar at Harvard University, on her career path and work.
The girls then broke out into small groups, each with a mentor to guide them through a group data project. The small group workshops were a chance for the students to practice processing and visualizing data themselves. Each group worked on one of six projects we curated for a middle school audience. The project topics ranged from COVID vaccination rates, to popular TV shows, to Starbucks menu design.
Students had a chance to present their work after working with their groups. Survey responses indicated that both students and mentors enjoyed this group activity, particularly meeting one another. One 8th grade student remarked that she liked how they “started off really confused, but ended up coming up with a huge output” with the data project.
Student Group 15 analyzed shopping data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis
The event concluded with another general session career panel and final keynote presentation. The panel featured four speakers, Gracie Ermi (Research Software Engineer at Vulcan Inc.), Ivanna Williams (Research Scientist at Chan Zuckerberg Initiative), Marcelle Goggins (Data Engineer at RIPL), and Paula Maouyo (Product Operations at Stripe). They described their experiences working with data science in various fields, aiming to show the girls how wide data science applications can be. Data 2 the People’s Dr. Elena Grewal gave the keynote address, telling her journey through the world of data science starting in New Haven.
The girls mentioned they particularly enjoyed learning about the mentors and their careers. Another 8th grader commented that she “loved listening to the data scientists’ stories and how they explained the importance of data science”, rating the event 5/6 overall.
Continuing the Program
We are so excited by the success of our first Data Days even with King-Robinson Middle School and look forward to continuing to host programs across the country! If you are interested in getting involved in future events please fill out our interest form here.