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Pandemic shows relevance of data analytics for Watts College outstanding graduate student

ASU grad Sunayna Goel

"One thing I have realized in life is that it is never too late to go to school," said Watts College outstanding graduate in interdisciplinary programs Sunayna Goel, who returned to college after an 18-year gap. "It is never too late to follow your passion, and it is certainly not too late to rediscover yourself. Education is one tool that allows us to do that; it lets us spread our wings and fill new colors in our life."

May 05, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Sunayna Goel’s decision to pursue a master’s degree in program evaluation and data analytics gained new relevance for her after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“(Pursuing) my Master of Science in program evaluation and data analytics (PEDA) was a very natural choice for me because I was always interested in mathematics and data. The various projects in the program where we made inferences from different datasets, e.g. data from IRS, census and traffic, was quite eye-opening,” said Goel, the spring 2020 outstanding graduate in interdisciplinary programs.

“My true ‘aha’ moment is from the COVID-19 outbreak, where data is being generated at a global level and there is a real need to make decisions in almost real time,” she said. “This is where the data science, as a skill, is essential to tackle such complex problems.”

The pandemic gave Goel the chance to reflect on the most important things in life, she said.

“There is no doubt that work, travel, entertainment and social life are important, but so are family, health, kindness, giving and community. It surprised me to find out how little we need to stay happy and healthy,” said Goel, who is from Chandler, Arizona.

“When I saw the community coming together in various ways to help each other in this difficult time, it changed my perspective about life in general,” she said. “Most things around us are temporary, but the relationships we build and acts of kindness towards each other are permanent.”

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I chose ASU due to its focus on innovation. My husband is also an ASU alum, along with many of my friends, so we are a Sun Devil family. This being an online degree program also helped with my decision. 

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: My experience with all the professors and staff members has been extremely positive; everyone has gone above and beyond to drive student success. So, thank you, ASU.

If I have to pick one professor, then I would pick Jesse Lecy, the academic director for my program. Being an online student can sometimes (make you) feel isolated, but Dr. Lecy was always there to assist at any time of the day. It was like being in a classroom setting. For someone like me, who came to college after 18 years of gap, it was not an easy adjustment, but he always made me feel at ease. Thank you, Dr. Lecy, for everything!  

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Education is the best gift you can give to yourself. Being in school at any stage of life is not easy. Things can get hard; it might feel pointless at times, but don’t give up, and stick with it. 

One thing I have realized in life is that it is never too late to go to school. It is never too late to follow your passion, and it is certainly not too late to rediscover yourself. Education is one tool that allows us to do that; it lets us spread our wings and fill new colors in our life. 

In current times where everything is so temporary and fast-changing, I believe education is something that stays with a person and gives us the capability to soar again and again. So, don’t give up, you got this!

Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot to study or to just think about life?

A: Sometimes, it gets hard to find a perfect balance between life and studies. Like most human beings, I have also struggled to find my Zen where I can focus and work on my schoolwork. 

I am the type of person who likes the change of scenery. I find myself spending much of my time in my study doing my homework and reflecting upon life. I also find myself in public libraries and coffee shops. Weather permitting, I like to do a lot of my studies outside in fresh air in city parks, my backyard and even in my driveway. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would like to focus on what we are going through currently with COVID-19.  I would like to create a system where the general population from every country can report any type of unusual medical- or health-related issues. This type of system will allow global collaboration at a grassroots level, looking for patterns in health care issues that may be connected. The system will act as an early global warning system for any kind of health-related pandemic to allow for timely action and coordinated response across countries.

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