November 2014 MIDS Immersion: Day One
This week, 40 Master of Information and Data Science (MIDS) online students arrived at UC Berkeley. The students hailed from across the United States and even as far away as Spain, and they traveled to campus to meet their classmates and professors face to face for the first time during our on-campus immersion.
After check-in Wednesday night, students and faculty kicked things off with a welcome reception at California Memorial Stadium, where the MIDS students were welcomed to their alma mater with a speech from the School of Information Dean and some spirited school singing by Cal’s chorale a cappella group. Oski, the UC Berkeley mascot, even made an appearance as students networked with I School faculty and staff in a very Berkeley setting.
Learning to Lead
The next morning, the MIDS immersion got off to a running start with a seminar on “Leadership Communications” by UC Berkeley lecturers Doy Charnsupharindr and Susan Houlihan, who sought to help MIDS students find their authentic voice as leaders. They challenged students to actively work to “show up and be present” and to pay attention when talking to others in both professional and personal settings to understand what has heart and meaning in even the most mundane conversations. Students then participated in a number of hands-on activities meant to connect them to their peers and help build soft skills like communication. As Houlihan said, the MIDS degree provides students with the technical skills needed to be leaders in the data science field; now, she said, “It’s time to find the heart.”
The Leadership Communication Seminar focused on embracing unique personal qualities and using them to create your own authentic leadership style. After covering the components of a trustworthy leader, everyone shared personal experiences of those qualities in practice. It was remarkable that a group of people just meeting for the first time were able to share their experiences with such a refreshing amount of honesty. The stories were raw and had significant depth which allowed us to learn about each other but also learn from each other. Every leader who shared an experience demonstrated how distinct our path as a leader can be while still being centered on core leadership principles and values.
— Marlea Gwinn, September 2014 cohort
After the networking lunch, students split into two groups to head down to San Francisco for behind-the-scenes company tours of two wildly popular, data-driven startups, Yelp and Uber. At Uber, students talked to Kevin Novak, who leads the ride-sharing company’s data science team. He gave a brief presentation about Uber’s usage of data science in shaking up the ride-sharing industry, and then the group of students had an opportunity to ask questions about Uber’s data team, the applicability of their studies, and what exactly he’s looking for when it comes to hiring data scientists. The Yelp group was treated to a tour of Yelp’s sales and engineering floors, and then Jimmy Retzlaff, Yelp’s engineering manager, held a presentation on how Yelp advises smaller businesses to advertise with them. The students were then given the opportunity to meet and greet with some Yelp data engineers and data scientists before heading over to the broader Data Science Happy Hour sponsored by the I School.
The Data Science Happy Hour featured guests from a number of Bay Area companies, all eager to talk to the MIDS students about using data science in industry. Guests included Facebook, Airbnb, Yelp, Jawbone, Salesforce, Eventbrite, Optimizely, and health care giants like Kaiser Permanente. This face-to-face interaction with data science practitioners was the perfect prelude to hearing from data scientists at Friday’s Data Dialogs conference.
Students share their experience:
Many of us have been a part of [an online] classroom community for a while now. We have seen each other’s faces once or twice a week in class and have collaborated on projects. We have discussed ideas in depth and have even challenged each other’s opinions. Despite the distance, we have developed a close community. The immersion not only solidified that interconnectedness, but it further allowed us to engage ourselves with the campus community at Berkeley as well.After 10 weeks of online classes and four days with my colleagues, I feel more connected with my colleagues in the program than I ever did in an actual classroom. The close-knit community of data science scholars that our program has brought together is what makes it invaluable.
— Marlea Gwinn, September 2014 cohort
Visiting Uber was an amazing experience. After a 40-minute presentation, we spent over an hour asking questions to Kevin Novak (leader of the data science division) on everything from data science at Uber, to data science at small start ups, to the evolving place of data science in the world. It was invaluable to get an inside perspective of data science in the tech world — I left inspired, and with a better idea of the kinds of problems I might like to solve next.
— Chris Llop, September 2014 cohort
The happy hour was an amazing opportunity to hear first-hand from data scientists at some of the most exciting and innovative companies in the Bay Area. Talking with them about their work and telling them about our own projects in the MIDS program led to some of the most interesting conversations of the weekend. This is just one part of what made the immersion so great. Getting to know my classmates and learning about their ideas and backgrounds has been incredibly valuable and contributed to my learning in a way that I wouldn’t have believed was possible for an online program.
— Carson Forter, September 2014 Cohort