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August 12, 2019

Agnes Scott College: Driving Innovation In Partnership With Google For New Applied Machine Learning Course

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Metro Atlanta has a reputation for producing the world’s best creative, tech and executive talent. The region is a hub for higher learning institutions, drawing in the next generation from around the world and connecting these individuals to the in-demand careers of today and tomorrow. This summer, Agnes Scott College is partnering with Google to pilot a new Applied Machine Learning Intensive course that will prepare students for careers in technology fields. 

Agnes Scott is one of only three colleges chosen by Google across the U.S. to provide the 10-week course to nearly 20 co-ed students. For Google and Agnes Scott, the goal is to equip more students in liberal arts fields with the skills sought after by many technology companies.  

Dr. Elaine Meyer-Lee, associate vice president for global learning and leadership development and professor of psychology with Agnes Scott, discussed how the Applied Machine Learning Intensive course will benefit students as they enter the modern workforce. 

“[Google recognized that,] when they think about their workforce future, they want folks with the skills that a liberal arts education provides: Learning how to learn, critical thinking, teamwork, communicating effectively in writing – orally, visually, and numerically, etc. They want people who have the creativity that comes from interdisciplinary thinking,” Dr. Meyer-Lee said. 

The course for college credit introduces how to effectively investigate, clean, analyze and visualize data; understand different machine learning models and diagnose modeling issues; discern when machine learning is the “right” solution for given data and business needs; and deepen coding skills in SQL and Python. This mix of hard and soft computer science skills directly answers the needs of a range of businesses in the field – including companies working at the forefront of disruptive technologies.

“The pace of change with technology, with machine learning and automation, is a huge disruptive force in all kinds of industries, with a wide range of applications,” Dr. Meyer-Lee said. “However, the technical side alone is not enough – it really needs to be wedded to broader skills. A lot of the problems we’re facing today are because we have divorced the two. We have let technology run ahead without a full understanding of the complex impact it has on human beings. The way that we’re going to solve a lot of these things is putting them back together.”

Two Agnes Scott students, Prashamsa Rimal ’19 and Susan Cordero Romero ’21, were chosen to participate in the course over the summer. With more than 600 applications, the selection process by Google concluded in 20 students chosen per campus. Diversity was also a major component in Google’s selection process and initially led to the company seeking out Agnes Scott College. The class participating this summer represents a range of diverse perspectives and experiences, across gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomics and more.  

Susan Cordero Romero, originally from Costa Rica and raised in Greenville, will complement her coursework at Agnes Scott with the Applied Machine Learning Intensive Course.

“I just graduated from Agnes Scott, and my major was neuroscience. There are many different ways you can incorporate computer science into understanding how the brain works and there’s a lot of heavy data you’re looking at. Using computer programs is an efficient and effective way to perform research,” Cordero Romero said. 

Rimal spoke to further applications for machine learning in the field of bioscience, potentially revolutionizing procedures and methods for diagnosis.

“There are so many use cases for machine learning. One of the cases we are working with is figuring out if someone has cancer or not. Machine learning uses data you already have, trains itself, and figures out [the diagnosis],” Rimal said. 

A final component to the course is teaching students to understand the ethical use of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and how to identify bias in data. 

“There are many different ways that bias can happen, so what we’ve been learning in this course is thinking through what kind of questions we want to ask. You analyze the data you have, and even before that, make sure you collect data that is representative,” Cordero Romero said. 

Companies like Google, YouTube and Amazon use machine learning and Artificial Intelligence to analyze vast quantities of data from users and customers. The results are algorithms that suggest videos, products and more to users based on their interactions with the platform. The potential danger and ethical implications of managing this data become important considerations for engineers and data analysts. 

Agnes Scott was recently named the No.1 most innovative school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The machine learning course is just a small part of the college’s larger mission to educate women to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times.

“We have transformed [Agnes Scott] through SUMMIT, which focuses our students on global learning, leadership development and digital competency. We send all of our first-year students on global immersion experiences,” Dr. Meyer-Lee said. “It’s not just that week, it’s embedded in a class where they start with culture and identity, globalization, colonialism, imperialism, and the ethics of travel. The students really understand before they go that these experiences are not about tourism. They are about conscious traveling and community engagement.”

Agnes Scott and Google will look to possibly continue their partnership into 2020 and beyond, with common education and workforce pipeline development goals.

“It’s been a great opportunity for Agnes Scott, and we’re happy to partner with Google,” Dr. Meyer-Lee said. “Google is constantly iterating on the courses, and it’s really exciting to see our future directions align. We’re growing into a more nuanced understanding of the digital needs of our students.”

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For more information on the Applied Machine Learning Intensive Course, please reach out to Agnes Scott Vice President for Communications and Marketing Danita V. Knight (dknight@agnesscott.edu).

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