George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

National Science Foundation funds Mason data analytics summer program

October 29, 2018   /   by Nanci Hellmich

“Students learn what it means to do data research."

— Huzefa Rangwala, professor of computer science

Jad Rayes participated in Mason's REU site last summer.

Jad Rayes, a senior majoring in computer science, participated in educational data mining training at Mason through the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Sites program last summer. The opportunity, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, helped him firm up his plans to get a master’s degree in computer science, specializing in machine learning and data mining.

Undergraduates who want to learn how to glean research insights from data should apply for a 10-week, all-expense-paid summer 2019 program at Mason.

This is the second year the university has offered educational data mining training through the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Sites program, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). It’s open to 10 undergraduates from around the country.

“Students learn what it means to do data research,” says Mason Engineering’s Huzefa Rangwala, professor of computer science and director of the university’s REU site. “One of the goals is to give students their first experience in research with the hope that they’ll get excited about it and pursue graduate degrees and career opportunities in academia.”

The interdisciplinary program involves the application of data mining in the education domain. Last summer’s participants—four from Mason and eight from other universities—included students majoring in computer science, mathematics, and psychology, says Mark Snyder, associate professor of computer science. Each student:

  • Explored learning analytics, data mining, and visualization techniques.
  • Was mentored by university researchers with expertise in areas such as computer science, electrical engineering, information sciences and technology, higher education, and educational psychology.
  • Went to seminars taught by Mason faculty.
  • Participated in a data analytics hackathon.
  • Learned how to summarize their research findings in papers and oral presentations. Some also wrote blogs or created videos about their experiences.
  • Attended a big data conference hosted by the NSF.
  • Participated in group recreational activities, including a local hike.
  • Received a $5,000 stipend, free campus housing, and funds for food and travel expenses.

Jad Rayes, a Mason Engineering senior majoring in computer science, says the program firmed up his plans to get a master’s degree in computer science, specializing in machine learning and data mining.

“We learned how to write research papers and how to present our findings,” Rayes says. “I felt lucky to be in the program. It was very selective. Everybody became good friends by the end.”

It’s an excellent opportunity for students interested in pursuing research, says Mia Cornwell, a senior computer science major. “It gives you a good feel for what the research field is about.”

Next summer's program will run from May 28 until August 2. The deadline for applying is February 15.  

“We learned how to write research papers and how to present our findings. I felt lucky to be in the program. It was very selective. Everybody became good friends by the end.”

— Jad Rayes, a senior majoring in computer science,

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