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CDS faculty helps bring diversity into the data science game

According to a 2017 study of part time technical programs reported in Forbes, the emerging data science field had the lowest representation of female, African American, and Latino students.

The Sports Analytics Club Program was created to address this disparity, and by partnering with George Mason University’s Computational and Data Sciences (CDS) and athletic programs, they are building a pipeline for a diverse group of students to grow into this extremely popular and prosperous field.

A few years ago, Robert L. Clayton, Esq. formed this partnership with MIT Sloan faculty member, Ben Shields to create the Sports Analytics Club Program, a 6-19 STEM education and workforce development initiative designed to address this under-representation in a relatable way.

SACP founder Clayton explains, "The SACP is designed to address the digital divide and lack of access to technology for young women and African American and Latino youth in every community across the country.”

In 2017-18, Edmondson-Westside High School, where Clayton taught in Baltimore, Maryland, was considered to be one of Maryland’s lowest performing high schools in math proficiency, and therefore a perfect “proof of concept” pilot club for the SACP’s first project.

The Sports Analytics Club Program is not about pursuing careers in sports. Rather, it combines data analytics with sports to teach data science. It's about identifying a societal problem in secondary education and identifying a solution.

In December 2017, SACP members submitted a 25-page performance portfolio to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame to advocate for Marvin Webster’s Induction. Webster, an Edmondson-Westside High School alum, had received a scholarship to Morgan State University and was the third pick of the 1978 NBA draft. This was the first time the Basketball Hall of Fame had looked at a data analysis -driven decision to make an induction and the kids felt good to be a part of something of this magnitude. 

Until the Baltimore Sun wrote two articles about the student's work that inducted Marvin Webster, the students from the SACP pilot program did not expect the attention that came. As their research continued, Edmondson-Westside’s Sports Analytical Club was featured in ESPN's Special on SACP - "Defy the Odds," a documentary on the pilot program started at Edmondson-Westside.

Fast forward to 2019 when a data scientist was the highest paying entry-level job, with a median base salary of $95,000 and Mason’s Computational Data Science program is boasting 34% growth in the fall 2020 semester.

George Mason CDS adjunct professor, Ralph Romanelli, also the SACP faculty advisor at Quince Orchard High School (QOHS) in Gaithersburg, MD, connects the Mason CDS program to the high school students in their SACP program, introducing collegiate level data science study opportunities to the high schoolers while mentoring them through exciting data science experiences.

“We want to excite and motivate the under-represented populations to seek advanced STEM degrees in college and work in STEM-related positions within the technology industry in northern Virginia.” Romanelli explained.

In collaboration with Tommy Balcetis of the Denver Nuggets, QOHS Teacher Advisor Michael Schweizer and Romanelli led the club to create their Jamal Murray All-Star presentation, a research project to promote Murray of the Denver Nuggets for the 2019-2020 NBA All-Star game. 

Romanelli adds, "The SACP's strategy of teaming university professors, high school faculty and professional sports analysts to guide high school sports analytics clubs is a brilliant and winning combination.”

Students view firsthand what it is like to have a career in data and sports analytics while engaging in meaningful real-life sports projects. SACP's vision to involve as many students from diverse backgrounds as possible encourages more women and minorities to get involved in data science.

Mason’s director of scouting and analytics, Tyler Jorns invited QOHS Sports Analytics Club members to shadow the university’s data analyst while collecting and analyzing data. 

“We look forward to providing SACP students with a hands-on learning opportunity to dissect competitive data from basketball in one of the nation’s top conferences.” said Jorns. “We are excited to see what trends and conclusions the students formulate while working with our team.” Jorns added.

“George Mason University is a proud partner of the Sports Analytic Club Program to directly impact students who have been under-resourced and come from impoverished environments.” shared Jason Kinser, chair of the CDS department in Mason’s College of Science. “The inspiring and innovative partnership helps us play a proactive role to supply a diverse workforce to northern Virginia’s technology sector.” Kinser said.

The SACP now includes 22 high school clubs and 28 university partners. (see SACP Participating high schools and universities).