Student Stories: From Theater Major to Data Science Professional
The Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute (NMDSI) congratulates Katie Shanahan on her new position as a Senior Analyst, Credit and Fraud Risk at New York-based American Express. Katie will be working in a data analyst capacity to minimize credit and fraud risk by querying data and creating data visualizations to detect patterns in customer actions that can be used to make decisions regarding potential cardholders.
Katie began her education as a theater major at Marquette University. “As a young girl, I didn’t really know that (data science) was a career option for me. I knew I liked math in high school, but I ended up doing something where I felt more comfortable.” She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater Arts and going back to her love of math, decided to pursue a Professional Capstone Certificate in Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This certificate program is available for those with bachelor’s degrees and includes both introductory courses and advanced courses in the field of computer science. Katie ultimately returned to Marquette to pursue a Master of Science in Computing degree, which she earned in June 2020. “I really liked working with data and databases; I wanted to start working with more data as I went into my master’s program. I didn’t know a lot about data science at that time, but then I got involved with the NMDSI.”
During her master’s program, Katie worked as the Program and Promotion Associate supporting the NMDSI at Marquette. “One thing I really liked about working on the NMDSI team was that we were working to help make data science a more prominent topic of conversation and improving the Milwaukee community.” She also worked as a student data analyst on an NMDSI-funded research project called Elecurator. This project, currently ongoing, tracks the major issues engaging both candidates and voters in the 2020 presidential election cycle. Using a technique known as social curation, the team analyzes multiple sources of data to see what topics are important to voters and how the candidates are speaking about those same issues. Using topic modeling, Katie analyzed data and created visualizations to show how democratic debate candidates were discussing class inequalities including topics centered on individuals living at the poverty level, middle class and upper class. She also helped create models that are being used to analyze candidate Tweets related to subjects such as healthcare. “Through my experience on this project, I learned more and more about data science and the different roles to get data science to work in a company. I got to work on predictive modeling and reporting and understand all the steps that data administrators and data analysts use; it was a really good introduction to learning about these roles.”
Emphasizing big data and data analytics, the Business Analytics and Business Intelligence master’s courses at Marquette helped prepare Katie for a transition to a professional career. But she recommends that students get involved in research work before they graduate. “Work on as many research projects as you can. I loved the coursework – it provided a great introduction to what might happen in business. But being on a project team really helped me understand how to apply what I learned and look for different methods to solve a problem.” Katie credits the NMDSI for helping her identify different data-related career paths and providing examples of how businesses use data to drive decision making. As for the future, Katie recognizes that data science is still in its infancy. Someday, she aspires to be part of an organization or a start-up that is just beginning to see the value of data science and help them build their data science program from the ground up.