By Tiffany Whitfield

Old Dominion University's Department of Computer Science hosted a Data Science Summer Camp for area high school students this summer. The camp was funded by the PRA Group Inc and led by Sampath Jayarathna, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science.

The 10-day intensive program, designed to prepare high school students to work with different data sources, was in a hybrid format and offered onsite learning as well as virtual training sessions.

Jayarathna, along with graduate students from ODU's Computer Science Department, immersed students in programming, Python coding and problem-solving.

"Data Science is becoming the lingua franca of the 21st century as there are more data sources today than ever before," said Jayarathna. "We must prepare the younger generation for the world of data science and artificial intelligence."

Students were introduced to various concepts like data visualization, data wrangling, data cleaning and machine learning.

"It was amazing how the students were still able to grasp these high-level concepts via online meetings as evident in their engagements in the class activities," said Jayarathna.

Presenters included Jian Wu, ODU assistant professor in Computer Science and member of the Web Science and Digital Libraries Group (WS-DL). Wu talked to the students about natural language processing and "Training Computers to Understand Humans."

Meghan Chandarana, a computer engineer at NASA Ames Research Center, discussed her journey of becoming a NASA engineer.

Sawood Alam, an ODU alumnus of the WS-DL group, shared his experiences as a web and data scientist at Internet Archive.

Students teamed up to work on final projects.

The final projects included creating data visualizations such as using bar plots to show the view count of trending YouTube channels and COVID-19 cases per county. Some students even used advanced concepts like text analysis and Web scraping.

"It was impressive to see the development in coding skills and confidence of these high school students," said Jayarathna. Some students went from writing their first "hello world" program in Python to experimenting with datasets and creating visualizations.

To learn more about ODU's Computer Science Data Science program click here.

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