And Just Like That, I Became a Huge Data Nerd

My first data project at WCA!

Using data to influence the greater good has become something of a passion of mine over the last three years or so. I have Westchester Children’s Association to thank for that. When I showed up at this office in March of 2016, I already knew that I wanted to work with all the data sets and create beautiful visualizations. What I did not know: the countless ways data can influences the masses. Let me try to explain what I mean by that. Before coming to work at WCA, I used data analysis and mapping at the Food Bank for Westchester to target food insecure areas in Westchester that were in need of Food Bank services. When I came to WCA, I understood that aspect of using data as a tool; however, I learned over time that data visualized and presented in the right way, can tell a powerful story that moves large numbers of people to action. Data is not just crunching numbers in fancy software programs and spitting out pie charts (#nomorepiecharts). It is tangible, actionable evidence that can be presented to highlight both the root causes (and consequences) of some of our biggest societal issues.

Westchester County is the perfect place to crack open data sets and demonstrate that not everyone in this County embodies the wealthy, well-off reputation Westchester has. We have worked hard at WCA to make sure that the public and policy makers are well aware of what goes on beneath the surface of that reputation. It became my personal passion to create digital tools (see our Interactive Data page) that put data exploration in the hands of the public; to enable non-data nerds to see what goes on in their own communities and get them to own the data.

Opportunities Abound

Me and my Tableau Fellows in Seattle.

WCA is a work environment that encourages continuous learning and supports it fully. In 2016, I received a scholarship to train in the art of data visualization through an organization called Strive Together and a company called Tableau. I spent a year traveling to Austin, D.C., Seattle, and Las Vegas (I swear this was for work) with other fellows from all over the country. Each fellow cared passionately about using data effectively to influence the lives of children. I hope you have been able to use the interactive data tools that came directly out of this fellowship opportunity.

The Tableau Fellowship was not the only opportunity for learning. WCA helped me apply for a grant from TD Bank that provided funding for training in a mapping software called ArcGIS. Every time an opportunity (there were many others) like this presented itself, everyone at WCA supported it, even if it took time away from other responsibilities.

Staff Wellness Day-Zumba Class!

The wonderful thing about working at a place like Westchester Children’s Association is the small, tight-knit team that fosters a culture of collaboration and learning. From the moment I got here (and after the excitement of not having to sit in a cubicle anymore passed), I started devouring the knowledge and expertise that surrounded me in this office; especially from my mentor and Queen of Data Analysis (official title), Lim. On my literal first day, Lim excitedly gave me 23 websites to visit, five data sources to familiarize myself with, at least three programs to start learning, and about six books to read. That might be only a slight exaggeration; bottom line, she was ready to get me into my best data shape.

In my time here, I have grown quite a bit, adding numerous skills to my toolbox; things I will take with me on my next adventure. Have I mentioned I quit yet?

It is WCA’s Fault I Quit

I am sure WCA did not intend to create the inspiration I found to become a teacher working with high-need populations; but they did. I can actually pinpoint a specific moment when it all hit me: Lim and I were sitting in an elementary school principal’s office showing off data visualizations that we created using her student’s educational outcome data. We wanted to help understand the best practices her school was using that resulted in high achievement outcomes for some students. I had this epiphany: I want to take what I have learned about using data as a power tool and bring it into the education space and improve the lives of students and their families. I knew then that I wanted to use what I understood about the possibilities data creates, but do it from where that principal sat.

Eventually, I took the plunge and applied to the NYC Teaching Fellowship. I will be a high school Special Education teacher in the South Bronx in September and I start my Masters at Hunter College in June.

My crew! <3

I honestly would not be doing any of this if it were not for Westchester Children’s Association, and specifically, the people that work here. I could honestly write about five more pages about all of my wonderful memories here but that would be bad blog etiquette and I cannot break my own communications rules. Hopefully the photos do a better job of summing it up.

I cannot wait to see what amazing things they do next.