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You know it’s going to be a good week when your university’s head basketball coach crashes your Monday morning class as a guest lecturer. That’s what happened recently to students Alex Ishac (Chandler, AZ) and Rebecca Hanna (Chicago, IL), who are two of the 53 individuals enrolled in the “Engineering in the World of Data” Learning Community at Purdue University.

Purdue Head Men's Basketball Coach Matt Painter and the instructors and students in the "Engineering of the World of Data" learning community.

Purdue Head Men’s Basketball Coach Matt Painter poses with the instructors and students in the “Engineering of the World of Data” learning community in Mackey Arena. Photo courtesy of Teresa Walker, Purdue School of Engineering Education.

Purdue Men’s Basketball Head Coach Matt Painter crashed a class of the first-year engineering course, ENGR 103, which was held in Mackey Arena to demonstrate the application of data science in sports. The course, “Developing Your Data Mind,” was designed by Libraries faculty Michael Witt and Nastasha Johnson as a part of the learning community, in collaboration with colleagues from the Purdue College of Engineering, Department of English, and University Residences.

Matt Painter talks to students in Purdue's "Engineering in the World of Data" learning community about how data drives the decisions he makes as a coach.

Coach Matt Painter talks to students in Purdue’s “Engineering in the World of Data” learning community about how data drives the decisions he makes as a coach. Photo by Teresa Walker.

Painter spoke to the class about how data drives the decisions he makes as a coach—everything from recruiting to scouting opponents to shot selection and how individual players position their bodies on the court. Andrew McClatchey, statistical analyst for the men’s basketball team, also talked to students about the state-of-the-art technology and techniques in sports data collection and analysis and his experience in pursuing a career in data science.

In the course, students were learning how to make effective decisions using data. The night before the lecture, they joined the faculty of the learning community for popcorn and to watch the movie “Moneyball,” which is about the 2002 season of the Oakland Athletics baseball team that set a record for winning 20 games in a row by employing data analytics.

“The learning community brings together a cohort of first-year engineering students who have a shared interest in data science,” said Witt. “It gives us the opportunity to incorporate experiences outside of the classroom to bring the material to life.”

Purdue Libraries Associate Professor Michael Witt introduces Andrew McClatchey, statistical analyst for Purdue's men’s basketball team, to students in the "Engineering of the World of Data" learning community in Mackey Arena.

Purdue Libraries Associate Professor Michael Witt introduces Andrew McClatchey, statistical analyst for Purdue’s men’s basketball team, to students in the “Engineering of the World of Data” learning community in Mackey Arena. Photo by Teresa Walker.

In addition to ENGR 103, students in the learning community take special, data-themed versions of required first-year engineering courses, including ENGR 131 and 132, “Transforming Ideas to Innovation I & II”; the English course ENGL 106, “Academic Research and Writing”; and ENGR 195, “Computational Methods of Data Science for Engineers,” which is a specialty course just for the learning community.

“Being in the community means that you take these classes together with the same group of students, resulting in opportunities to form close relationships with each other,” Ishac noted. “We’re learning while forming these friendships, and then we have activities like going to Mackey Arena and getting to talk to Purdue’s men’s head basketball coach and the team’s data analyst. I think the idea—to make these types of connections to interesting people who we can learn from—is really impactful,” he said.

Andrew McClatchey, statistical analyst for Purdue's men’s basketball team, talks to students about state-of-the-art technology and techniques in sports data collection and analysis and his experience in pursuing a career in data science.

Andrew McClatchey, statistical analyst for Purdue’s men’s basketball team, talks to students about state-of-the-art technology and techniques in sports data collection and analysis and his experience in pursuing a career in data science. Photo by Teresa Walker.

“Our focus was to provide students with an early exposure to data science ideas and applications with an emphasis on how engineers use data to make evidence-based decisions,” said Engineering Education Professor Tamara Moore, who leads the learning community with Witt. “The instructors worked together to align the curriculum so that students would learn many facets of engineering in the world of data from the appropriate experts, integrated across these five courses.”

Another example of a learning community activity was the students’ recent participation in Purdue’s annual Dawn or Doom conference. Students attended presentations and ate lunch with one of the conference speakers, as well as discussed whether they were optimistic or pessimistic about advances in technology and its impact on their lives.

“I really enjoyed the ‘Presenting Data Effectively’ talk at Dawn or Doom,” Hanna said. “All the events that the learning community hosts are fun, and I learn something new. Although the learning community requires some extra work, I think it is definitely worth it,” she added.

Ishac concurs there is significant return on his investment in the “Engineering of the World of Data” learning community.

“The chance to be part of the ‘Engineering in the World of Data’ learning community the past several weeks has made my Purdue experience so far incredible for me,” he added.

Upcoming activities for the learning community include a field trip to the Cummins Technical Center to learn about product testing and simulation data, as well as “Learn Python with a Python” programming boot camp, in which students will be introduced to the Python scripting language by working with animal-management data and visit with an actual python from Columbian Park Zoo.

The “Engineering in the World of Data Learning Community” will begin accepting applications for the 2019-20 school year in January. It is open to incoming students admitted to the First-Year Engineering Program or to Pre-ABE in the College of Agriculture. For more information, visit www.purdue.edu/learningcommunities/profiles/engineering/engineering_data.html.