Kenwood Takes on Big Data

Assistant to the Editor

Dozens of students from four South Side schools visited the University of Chicago campus last Thursday to learn about the analysis of large data sets to improve city services, including 12 students from Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave.

At a four-hour seminar and workshop at the Searle Chemistry Laboratory, 5735 S. Ellis Ave., entitled “Chicago: City of Big Data,” Kenwood students – joined by others from South Shore International College Prep High School, the University of Chicago Charter School and Lindblom Math and Science Academy – heard about issues related to the collection and interpretation of publicly available data. The students also formed groups to come up with their own ideas for programs that collect data.

Presenters included former recipients of the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good Fellowship, an initiative of the U. of C. Harris School of Public Policy and the Computation Institute (CI), an on-campus resource center for researchers who process large amounts of data.

Senior Nikel Allen and sophomore Ryan Nowells were two Kenwood students who heard from fellow and Chicago-area PhD student Alessandro Panella, who last summer analyzed graffiti removal and pothole fix requests directed at the city’s 311 hotline to better predict when and where such services may be needed. Other presenters described their analyses of usage patterns at Divvy bicycle stations and the No. 6 Jeffery bus.


According to Allen, Kenwood computer science and robotics teacher John Quinn recommended the program to him and Nowells. Both students attend Quinn’s robotics class.

“When he told us about it, it was kind of interesting,” Allen said. Nowells added that he would like to create an app with which users could quickly alert the city to an emergency and automatically share their location.

Quinn, now in his second year at Kenwood, said the workshop dovetailed with the school’s curriculum for science, technology, engineering and math – also known as STEM.

“I think younger people should be well aware of, for one, what the problems are,” Quinn said, adding that they should “have input on how they can solve them, because they’re the ones who are going to be the future decision-makers.”

“I think that there’s a big need to train people in how to work with data,” said CI Director Rob Mitchum. “I’ve seen article after article about how there’s a big need in every industry, in every government organization – non-profits, even – for people that can make sense of data.”

Mitchum reached out to Shaz Rasul, director of the U. of C. Neighborhood Schools Program, to coordinate inviting area high school students to the workshop. Rasul said 65 students in total signed up to attend.

Rasul, who holds a masters degree in computer science from the U. of C. said that “anytime we can make education more practical, so that kids understand that what they’re studying has a real world application, I think that really empowers them in a different kind of way.”
Thursday’s workshop precedes a panel discussion by the same name being held at 6 p.m. tonight at the Logan Center, 915 E. 60th St. The event moderated by Argonne National Laboratory computer scientist Charlie Catlett will explore how data can be used to improve quality of life in cities.