Making a difference through data science and service
Community service has always been a big part of Katherine Gonzalez’s life.
And her passion for making a difference followed her to Chaminade. It’s why she jumped at the opportunity to start a Latinx Club at the university to celebrate her culture with others, and why she was central to an effort to make care packages for the homeless during the pandemic. And it’s what ultimately landed her in data science, where she found an innovative way to serve others.
“Service is what being a good citizen means,” she said, in a recent interview.
Gonzalez, who is slated to graduate in 2023, is originally from Los Angeles.
She’s majoring in Criminology and Criminal Justice with a minor in Data Science but found Chaminade through her interest in Forensic Science. Gonzalez quips that she switched after a grueling semester of Chemistry, but she also found Criminology and Criminal Justice more in line with her interests in public policy and social justice.
During her freshman year at the university, Gonzalez kept her schedule busy. In addition to launching the Latinx Club, she was in student government and joined the Residence Hall Association. She said club activities helped her from getting homesick and gave her the chance to strike up new friendships.
It was in the summer before her sophomore year that she first learned the power of data science.
One of her mentors, Data Science Program Director Dr. Rylan Chong, encouraged her to participate in Chaminade’s exciting hands-on collaboration with the Texas Advanced Computing Center. The program is called Supporting Pacific Indigenous Computing Excellence (SPICE) and challenges participants to use data science methodology to interpret, communicate and visualize big data sets in new ways.
Students like Gonzalez walk away with a new appreciation of just how instrumental data can be in educating and informing communities—and helping to drive positive change. For SPICE, Gonzalez dove into data around missing children in Hawaii. She also tackled a project through the Chaminade Summer Research Institute that looked at health and wellness trends among foster children in the islands.
Almost immediately, she was hooked.
“People think coding is so hard, but it’s like everything. Once you learn it, it becomes more manageable,” she said, adding that she was honored in her sophomore year to continue her studies by participating in the Advanced Computing for Social Change Institute through Chaminade.
Like her other data science work, the program had a strong community service focus. And she said it prepared her for a new challenge in her junior year: to serve as a peer mentor for that initiative along with the Pacific Region Data Science Challenge, a competition with students from around the country.
Gonzalez said helping other students built her confidence—and her passion for data science studies. “It’s just the best feeling to teach other people and help other people do things they never thought they could accomplish,” she said. “I realized that mentoring also helps you build your own skills.”
As a senior, Gonzalez is as busy as ever while looking forward to her next steps after graduation. In addition to participating in Campus Ministry, her Latinx Club and Chaminade’s Civic Engagement Club, Rodriguez is a peer mentor for a freshman orientation class and an assistant in the residence hall.
She also has an active internship with Dr. Janet Davidson, vice provost for Academic Affairs and Criminology and Criminal Justice professor, to provide data analysis on human trafficking. She said the work has given her a better understanding of what she wants to do after college.
First off, she said, she wants to attend graduate school to hone her coding skills.
And then she hopes to bring those skills to bear and drive positive change.
“I want to be able to help people,” Gonzalez said. “And this is a way that I can help in a big way.”