Weaving a Web of Connections

Originally, I had a preconceived notion that equity and inclusion are addressed primarily through humanities and sometimes social sciences, much less in my field, STEM. However, after beginning this summer’s work, I discovered that I was sorely mistaken. As such, one of the main goals I made for myself this summer concerning interdisciplinary research was how diversity, equity, and inclusion was addressed.  Beyond studying literature, history, and policy for ideas to address inequity, I wanted to learn how other facets of social sciences and STEM addressed inequity. I was set up to learn about these things over the course of my own project and through observing other fellows’ projects in these areas.

Creating a data resource for high school students to foster an early passion for data science fascinated me because after struggling heavily with my major in my first year at Pitt, I wanted to give students early exposure to this potential career field to alleviate that decision process. If students love the Data Jam, then they will know to narrow down to a STEM field to further pursue it. However, even if students dislike the Data Jam, they will know to eliminate few STEM fields, also narrowing down the decision. Perhaps even more importantly than the major decision process is the practicality of the skills gained. In a data-driven world today, knowing how to analyze data even at a high school level can pay dividends going into the working world no matter the discipline. Some of the similarities in my project as compared to other projects is that it was data-centered. Dylan Delapaz, Caleb Shook, and Jackson Filosa are a few other fellows that used data to solve problems within their respective communities. Additionally, my project also focused on providing educational equity to all those participating in the Data Jam; this was similar to Maggie Mendez and Sydney Kelley’s work with the JSI. The primary differences were in either the techniques or focuses used. For example, my work to accommodate educational inequities involved including an additional section in my resource bringing students up to speed on analysis techniques, while Maggie and Sydney’s work involved conducting interviews, literature reviews, etc. to examine how educational equity can be reduced in educational systems. Simply put, my research was more narrowly focused on statistics education, while theirs focused on entire systems.

A section from the first part of the manual, where I seek to provide equity in statistics education to high school students.

One of the most prominent benefits of working across disciplines is that you get to learn about numerous approaches to solve a certain type of problem. This builds versatility of knowledge. And although it might seem as though you may never use something from a humanities discipline in, say an engineering discipline, the reality is that you might, and furthermore you may be the only one with the knowledge to offer up such a solution. You simply never know when a diverse base of knowledge will come in handy.

The greatest drawback in my opinion to working across disciplines is that you are limited in the terminology you can use to convey your research. Sometimes, the only way to explain certain results is to use complicated jargon, which can make it very difficult for people in other backgrounds to understand. Interdisciplinary research creates a trade-off in this way: allowing more people to understand your work in exchange for a more general explanation of results.

My professional goal at the moment is to become an industrial engineer and focus on utilizing data-driven decision-making to make the world more efficient. As I enter the Industrial Engineering department in the Swanson School of Engineering this year, I intend to pursue this goal by making connections not only with the staff, but also through professionals in the field hopefully through internship or co-op experience. Additionally, I believe the connections I have already made, such as that with Dr. Cameron and Brian MacDonald, can certainly assist me in the pursuit of this goal. The more connections and collaborations I make, the greater the pool of knowledge I have access to, so I will continue focusing on making these connections to advance my own work (and that of any teams I work on) as much as possible.

A wall on the 10th floor of Benedum Hall at the University of Pittsburgh, displaying terms within Industrial Engineering!

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