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ASU grad student teaches 'big data' to high school girls

Smiling high school girls study STEM in a computer lab.

Seniors Yazmin Flores (left), 17, and Theresa Ruiz, 18, realize their coding works during the “From Big Data to Big Ideas” workshop put on by ASU grad student Jessica Guo for high school girls at Mesa Public Schools' Educational Technology Training Labs on Oct. 16. More than a dozen juniors and seniors gave up part of their fall break to compile, organize and utilize weather data over a 29-year period.

October 19, 2015

Graduate student Jessica Guo is passionate about science education. And she has lots of experience teaching coding and big data. Guo combined passion and experience to present a weeklong workshop on big data to students from Mesa Public Schools.

Twelve 11th- and 12th-grade girls spent their fall break learning a statistical computing program called “R,” which they used to analyze big data. The skills they learned will be valuable in future careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

“Programs like this one are narrowing the gap in girls’ participation and success in math and science,” said Monica Elser, education manager for ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability.

According to Guo, the primary goal of the workshop was for girls to develop coding skills while learning to work with large, publicly available datasets.

“In my experience teaching grad students and undergrads, learning to code in R has a steep learning curve, so I was really impressed with this group of girls and their persistence,” said Guo.

“My hope is that these students use their newly developed coding skills as a springboard for achieving their STEM goals.”

“The workshop capitalized on a broad range of data and ASU resources to create something really special for these students,” Elser said.

The students analyzed atmospheric CO2 data from Mauna Loa in Hawaii, precipitation data from the Flood Control District of Maricopa County in Arizona, and a long-term weather data set from the Jornada Basin Long-Term Ecological Research program in New Mexico.

“Programs like this one are narrowing the gap in girls’ participation and success in math and science.” 

— Monica Elser, education manager, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability

ASU’s Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research program was a partner on the workshop, which was part of Guo’s work with the ASU/NASA Space Grant, based in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Guo is a doctoral student studying biology in the School of Life Sciences.

Arizona State University is a member of the Arizona Space Grant Consortium, part of the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, which funded Guo’s workshop.