For Students From Mexico, Visuals Speak Louder Than Words

8/27/2014

We have all heard that Big Data is the future. And for most of the part this is true - Big Data has been a powerful discovery tool for corporate, government and social institutions, seeking to glean new insights, and to understand and interact with the world. But without the right framework for processing and understanding the data collected, much of the knowledge can go unrecognized.

“Certain characteristics of data can only be seen when data is represented graphically,” said Ana Hernández Reynoso, a computer science graduate student from Tec De Monterrey, Mexico. As part of a team of 29 graduate students from Mexico, Ana attended a two-week graduate workshop program at Stevens, as part of the ‘Data Exploration and Visualization for Risk and Decision-Making’ Certificate.

Led by Professor Jose Emmanuel Ramirez-Marquez, director of the Engineering Management Division at the School of Systems and Enterprises (SSE), the program introduces students to the latest visualization techniques through which large amounts of complex information can be analyzed and communicated clearly via graphic designs. To learn more about the Data Exploration and Visualization for Risk and Decision-Making certificate and other graduate cerificates at SSE, click here.

For many of the students from Mexico it was the first time visiting the United States. Ana Cecilia Sanitllán Lozano, a finance major said, “We thought this would be a good way to see a new culture, potentially learn a little more about a hot field, and gain credits.” “But during the two weeks, it became pretty clear that in today’s environment, good data storytelling is not only critical but perhaps the only way that companies and people can navigate the information glut to understand risk and make better decisions.”

“Visualization and its use for decision-making is becoming the new ‘common language’ in the data-driven environment of today,” said Dr. Ramirez-Marquez. Although, the practice of representing information visually is nothing new, with the adoption of more sophisticated technology in the world and the ever-increasing practice of data collection and data mining activities, data visualization in the form of dashboards is being used significantly by organizations to improve comprehension, communication and decision-making.

"The course was very challenging and enlightening - especially since many of us did not have a technology background," said Lozano. "But the Stevens faculty made the curriculum easy to understand. With an equal emphasis on labs and lectures, we were given ample hands-on opportunities to create data stories and understand visualization techniques that simplified the data, enabling us to look at the information with a new set of eyes.”

“Almost every kind of professional around the world is dealing with much more data than there used to be even five or ten years ago and these are not just statisticians or data analysts,” Dr. Ramirez-Marquez said.  “Beyond creating the visualization tools and techniques, there is a vital need to have people with the skill-set to use the tools effectively,” he said.

“At Stevens, we are constantly evolving our curriculum and pedagogical approaches to create value for students through knowledge domains that will broaden their horizons in the global marketplace. The data exploration and visualization certificate is another example of Stevens’ commitment to nurture and train the next-generation of technical leaders.”

Besides the visual delights in class, students were treated to several cultural and visual treats around the NYC area- Statue of Liberty, Broadway show, Yankees game and a trip to the United Nations.

“It was a fantastic experience overall,” said Reynoso. The knowledge and international experience we gained in these two weeks will surely help us grow professionally and personally in the competitive global environment.

For Dr. Ramirez-Marquez, “making the visualizations more real-time and interactive” is where data visualization is headed next. In his recent research for the city of Hoboken, he offers a decision-making tool for visualizing various configurations of optimal placement of public access Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) deployed in an urban environment. “The novelty of this study lies in the implementation of an interactive tool which allows a decision- maker to change parameters and observe effects on coverage and cost, ” he said. To read more about his research, click here.

He concluded, “In the long run, informed decisions will be based on the availability of information and the ability of decision-makers to manipulate this information in real-time to reduce risk and make effective choices.”