Learning a Language is Hard, Especially When Nobody Speaks It

Throughout the course of this fellowship, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to meet influential mentors, learn and develop technical and transferable skills, and pursue a project akin to my personal passion. Entering this project, I knew the value of the interdisciplinary approach. It is one I adopted for my academic plan and a crucial component of developing the tools necessary to combat multidimensional problems. Thus, my perspective on interdisciplinary research remains the same, and I’m inspired to pursue more opportunities that allow me to cross disciplinary boundaries, including the continuation of this project. My orientation has always been to address systemic, social issues, which are extremely relevant especially in a modern context. The interdisciplinary approach allows holistic addressment to the particular issue, often deriving a unique solution. I intend to leverage my studies in Finance, Political Science, Data Analytics, Ethics, and Economics to tackle food insecurity issues throughout my time at Pitt as a continuous project. Working with the non-profit Food21 has enabled me to meet professionals from a variety of industries, from natural gas to In-city farming, all of whom have assisted me with the project and provided mentorship throughout the internship. 

While it was valuable to communicate with these mentors, this communication was also difficult due to a lack of familiarity with their particular discipline. In addition, I had to present the product to various mentors in a way in which they’d understand and be able to provide insight on. I learned quickly that everyone was not a data scientist, and my novice experience in programming was not enough to enable me to explain complicated algorithms and programs. Instead, when I communicated the project to the various advisors, I employed a basic three-step approach. This came in handy this week when I had to present the project to members of the Board of Directors at Food21 to seek approval and feedback for the application. I prepared a presentation that followed the basic framework of: Problem, Product, Possibilities. First I gave background on the issue and previous research leading up this project. In this section I defined food insecurity and gave background on the original Food Abundance Index. Next I focused on the application itself. The meeting was conducted via Zoom, so I gave the Board a virtual walkthrough of the application, effectively adopting a mock scenario and explaining how it was portrayed in the database. I elected to omit any technical jargon or heavy explanation of the analysis processes, as it was not particularly relevant to any of the Board members, and would’ve caused confusion, which often happens when communicating across disciplines. Finally, I concluded the presentation by discussing the possible outcomes and impact of the project, which are directly related to some of the functionalities. I intentionally made this presentation short, in order to leave enough time for additional questions. This assumption was correct, as a discussion followed consisting of both feedback and praise. This was one of the most exciting encounters of the Fellowship, and validated my personal excitement about the potential of this application.

Throughout this fellowship, I’ve also developed many transferable and technical skills. For transferable skills, I alluded to some earlier in this post, as I’ve developed my communication and presentation skills during this Fellowship. I have been working closely with a developer from Food21, with whom I met extremely frequently. This improved my ability to schedule and facilitate meetings. This meeting facilitation is crucial, as it allows all parties involved to achieve goals without delving into tangential topics or issues that were not of priority. The classic notion of work life balance was achieved, as I became excellent at managing time between meetings, personal projects, and shark fishing with my brothers. Working in collaboration with someone else also supported my transferable skill of teamwork, and I learned the value of effective and frequent communication. It was necessary to ensure that we both were on the same page with goals and next steps throughout the duration of the project. This infusion of small, one-on-one brainstorm meetings and larger, presentational meetings provided me with a diverse experience that elevated my transferable skills in this area.

On the other hand, I also learn many hard skills throughout this Fellowship, most of which pertaining to data analytics. My developer and partner for this project, Sam Rose, has demonstrated that he knows pretty much everything about programming. This may seem like an exaggeration, however each meeting I’d approach him with a particular problem or idea, and he’d offer some sort of program to address it. If I were to write out everything I have learned from him over this past summer, I’d also have to begin drafting the next post on account of how much time it would take me to finish. Nonetheless, I have gained experience in the two coding languages our application is based in, Java and Python, and the language to code the webpage, HTML. In addition, I learned lots of open source software that can be implemented into application framework and data collection. Everything from MongoDB data warehouse applications, to Django Project, to a tool called Mautic that is employed for marketing and CRM. Experience in this diverse set of programs has enabled me to get an understanding of the programming discipline to the point where I can design the application, without spending time learning everything about the programs. Data science is an entirely different language, and learning it takes lots of time and effort. This summer has essentially provided me with a crash course on this discipline, laying the foundation for my exploration further into these programs. I am currently learning Python and Django Project, which go hand in hand, as a result of this Fellowship. Sam has done an excellent job of not only teaching me the material, but also inspiring me to pursue further education into the world of programming and data science.

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