Jenny Sy had already heard of the Studio at Cornell Tech when she submitted a project to Break Through Tech’s AI Studio last year. The Data Science Manager at the Hive, USA for UNHCR — the UN Refugee Agency — had enjoyed working with Master’s students at Cornell, but wasn’t sure what to expect with undergraduates from schools across the greater NYC area.
- AI Program
Jenny Sy had already heard of the Studio at Cornell Tech when she submitted a project to Break Through Tech’s AI Studio last year. The Data Science Manager at the Hive, USA for UNHCR — the UN Refugee Agency — had enjoyed working with Master’s students at Cornell, but wasn’t sure what to expect with undergraduates from schools across the greater NYC area. She was willing to take the leap because the program, specifically designed for women and other underrepresented groups, was filling a gap she had noticed.
“We crunch a lot of data,” she says with a laugh. “And we have curiosities about things: what is the relationship between this data set and another, is there a trend here we could map? But we don’t have the time to explore all of those questions, some of which are really interesting. We thought that would be a great way for students to explore something open-ended that might lead to something really useful, too.”
The AI Studio program comes after Break Through Tech AI students have completed an asynchronous summer course — with some in-person labs — that gives them all the basic skills they need to explore data science and machine learning problems. In AI Studio, they put those techniques to work on real-world problems, presented by companies at the height of their industries.
Elaine Wilcox-Cook, Data Analyst at the Hive, USA for UNHCR, says working with undergraduates is a good reminder for herself to “go back to the basics,” but she and the rest of her team were surprised with how thorough and creative Break Through Tech AI students were. “We didn’t tell them how to solve these problems,” she notes, “and what they tried that didn’t work is really helpful for us to know, too. We have their notes to see what they tried, so we can learn from that.”
Their team of students focused on data pulled from news stories that mentioned refugees — in positive or negative ways — to determine if there was a connection between media coverage and increased traffic and donations to the UNHCR website. “Our students really cared about the cause, too,” Jenny notes.
“They weren’t just completing the project to add something to their portfolio or check off a graduation credit. They were really interested in what they were working on, and how to make it better.”
AI Studio is a great program for students, but for Challenge Advisors like Elaine and Jenny, participating in the program is worth their time, too. “I can’t quantify it, but there is value in outside perspectives. It resets your mindset to an extent, to step away from what you’re working on and your deadlines and have conversations with curious, eager individuals. It’s very refreshing.”
The Hive is USA for UNHCR’s innovation lab responsible for bringing data science, machine learning and new technologies into the organization’s operations to enhance fundraising for refugees. You can learn more about the Hive and USA for UNHCR’s work here.
USA for UNHCR will be presenting another AI Studio Project for students in this year’s Break Through Tech AI cohort, given last year’s successful collaboration. Interested in getting involved with our AI Program? Learn more today.