New Summer Program Puts Data Science Into Action

Seventeen high school students from Boston area and beyond recently participated in the first week-long summer introduction to programming and machine learning called ‘Data Science in Action: Convolutional Neural Networks for Self-Driving Cars’. The class, taught by Biostats PhD candidate Aarón Sonabend and assisted by Greyson Liu and Eric Dunipace, encouraged students to develop their design and coding skills as they built small vehicles mounted with cameras, trained them to recognize objects using machine learning, and then programmed them to successfully navigate a small obstacle course. Says Sonabend, “It’s very motivating to work with such passionate kids”. Based off a similar class he first taught for Clubes de Ciencia in Guadalajara, the program was overseen by Professor Tianxi Cai, and sponsored by CELEHS, the Translational Data Science Center for a Learning Health System.

Cai’s motivation for initiating the course at HSPH was to build interest and capacity in machine learning in students from a young age, particularly among kids who might not otherwise have exposure to similar opportunities. According to Cai, “Kids are constantly surrounded by machine learning technologies from self-driving cars to photography editing apps. We want to give them skills from an early age, and make them feel like they can be involved in shaping the future. We also want to make quality education available to everyone, especially underrepresented minorities”.