What better time than now?How art and wanting to change the world led me to data scienceDawn GrahamBlockedUnblockFollowFollowingNov 27, 2018Data plays a crucial role in understanding the world around us.
I’ve been working with data in one way or another since before I could appreciate its value.
Now I’m in an immersive data science program.
Here’s a little bit about the journey the led me here:At University of Kentucky, I was in the pilot group for what would become the Green Dot Program.
I could recite the statistics about women who would experience violence or stalking.
Yet I knew too many people who were experiencing violence that did not fit into the paradigm of “men’s violence against women.
” I had to ask questions about a framework that left so many people out.
Later, in University of Vermont’s Master’s in Social Work program, I continued pursuing these questions.
This included studying gender and intimate partner violence using data from national surveys.
While in the MSW program, I also took on a more intensive data project as part of my field work.
The organization I was working with surveyed all public schools in Vermont to assess school climate for LGBTQ+ youth.
In the past, this was a five question survey that school administrators completed.
I turned it into a more comprehensive survey for students.
The new survey provided a much more accurate understanding of school climate.
Administrators at 100% of the schools had reported having an anti-bullying policy, as required by law.
Yet many students reported that school staff witnessed bullying and did nothing.
The finding that stood out to me: Gay and lesbian students reported similarly as straight or cisgender students on many indicators.
Students who identified as bisexual, queer, questioning, or transgender reported disproportionately higher rates of violence, mental health challenges, and lack of access to resources.
My appreciation for data also developed through my art background.
I had declared Photography as the focus of my Bachelor in Fine Arts degree, yet my interests and practice were more interdisciplinary.
I found inspiration in the works of people like Félix González-Torres.
He used ordinary materials to address topics like the AIDS epidemic, gun violence, and significant events in history.
“Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.
) by Félix González-Torres.
(photo: mark6mauno, CC BY-NC 2.
0)Hasan Elahi’s Tracking Transience project also struck a chord with me.
As a response to being put on a government watch list, he began oversharing his life: every airport he visited, every meal he ate, and every toilet he used.
The project raised questions about privacy, the data we share, and how it can be used.
Later, many of Jonathan Harris’s projects encouraged me to keep thinking about the crossovers of art, data, and storytelling.
The combined use of real-time data, sentiment analysis, and interactivity in We Feel Fine was an eye-opener for me.
I’d go on to take classes such as social network analysis and data visualization for the fun of it.
2013 social network analysis of my Facebook account made with GephiCrisis Text Line was one of the first applications of data science for social good that stuck with me.
I first learned about it when the executive director and I both presented on our respective projects to Hive Chicago.
The text line is an important resource that I’ve shared with young people I’ve worked with as well as others who care about young people.
But I’ve been especially excited to see the progress they’ve made in understanding crisis trends in order to provide more effective support.
As Board Member DJ Patil explained: “If a texter messages in with the word ‘ibuprofen’ they are 16 times more likely to be actively suicidal (‘bridge’ is 8 times and ‘tonight’ is 3 times) and the Crisis Counselors can immediately begin a risk assessment to help de-escalate the texter.
”For the last three years, my work focused on HIV and substance misuse prevention with high school and college students.
The position included updating, implementing, and analyzing local Youth Risk Behavior Surveys.
We used the results to inform our own work.
In 2016, we took some of our high school peer leaders to the CADCA Mid-Year Training Institute.
Moira O’Neil from FrameWorks Institute, delivered the keynote presentation.
Four slides in, my coworker reached over to me: “Please don’t leave us for them!” I laughed, but my coworker was correct — FrameWorks’ focus and approach was right up my alley.
Of everything O’Neil shared during that presentation, this was my biggest takeaway:From Moira O’Neil’s presentation “Framing Change: A Strategic Approach to Communications”Here is the main idea: If you are trying to push change around an issue, share a story that humanizes that issue.
This could be the story of how an issue affects one individual.
Next, include data to show the scale of the issue beyond the individual.
If you stop here, people become less likely to support change, because the problem feels too big.
But when you combine a story and data with actionable solutions, people are more likely to support change than with a story alone.
While I’d heard versions of this before, I had never seen it visualized.
It finally stuck.
I’ve shared a simplified version of the chart above many times since first seeing it.
Our high school peer leader groups used it to think about how to advocate for themselves and create change in their communities.
It informed my work with initiatives for racial and gender equity at an organization-wide level.
Unfortunately, the federal research grant that I was hired under was not offered again under the new administration.
As the end date of the grant approached, I faced the uncertainty of not knowing if I would still have a job or what that job would be.
Regardless, it would mean a transition in the work I had been doing at my organization.
This seemed like as good a time as any to take a leap.
While data has been part of my story for over a decade, I’ve never been able to spend the time with it that I would have liked.
One of the lists on my phone consists of project ideas that I’d like to explore with data, with questions like:What is the connection between cost of living and homeless rates?How do changes in marijuana laws affect deaths from opiates?How does a state’s racial composition relate to its incarceration rates?Is increased social media use linked to decreased sexual activity among teens?How are ideas adopted?.How many times does someone have to be exposed to a phrase before they begin using it?While I’ve been adding to the list for years, I’ve not had the pleasure of checking anything off yet.
I’m excited to develop a new skill set that will help me take on projects like these.
It’s important to me to further my ability to make positive changes in our communities.
Data science helps with more informed and effective storytelling, strategizing, interventions, and evaluation.
There are so many examples that inspire me besides Crisis Text Line.
uAspire is using virtual advising to help students find ways to afford college.
There are efforts underway to support people experiencing domestic violence using artificial intelligence.
While this is the beginning of my journey into data science, it’s continuing a path I was already on.
Thanks for reading!.Thoughts, questions, and feedback are always appreciated.