George Forman, a senior machine learning sci­entist for Amazon, will be teaching a course over Fall Break on data vizual­ization and pro­gramming. LinkedIn

Most Hillsdale College stu­dents take time for leisure over Fall Break, but for the first time in recent history, stu­dents have the option to take a class instead.

The class, Visu­al­ization and Analysis of Data, will be taught Oct. 17 – 20 by George Forman, a senior machine learning sci­entist for Amazon. Forman will also give a lecture on Monday, Oct. 22.

“We offer the class to provide tan­gible skills,” said Mark Panaggio, assistant pro­fessor of math­e­matics. “Given only a few days, data visu­al­ization is as close to a uni­versal use in coding as can be, because the course is meant to reach a broad audience on campus.”

Panaggio defined data visu­al­ization as looking at data in an infor­mative way, and dips into some com­puter pro­gramming tech­niques.

“The class is a hybrid of the­o­retical knowledge about visu­al­ization design and prac­tical knowledge about how to do it in Excel and Python,” Forman said in an email.

The class will be brief, but Forman said he sees this as a good intro­duction to data analysis and pro­gramming.

“It’s nice to have a short-breadth intro­duction, so you can pick your path, or even know that you don’t want to go further down those paths,” he said. “You can val­idate that you like the real thing before you go further, and if you don’t like it, the infor­mation gained has even greater value to you, so you can change course sooner.”

One purpose of data visu­al­ization, Forman said, is “dis­cov­ering the pat­terns and cor­re­la­tions in one’s area of study.” It’s also helpful for “com­mu­ni­cation with your audience, so they can easily absorb the most important points of your findings.”

The class has attracted stu­dents from many dif­ferent dis­ci­plines, including eco­nomics, finance, French, Greek, and chem­istry. Only one declared math major and one declared applied math­e­matics major are taking the class. There are several unde­clared stu­dents in the course, but Forman believes the subject matter is uni­ver­sally applicable.

“In this increas­ingly tech­no­logical world, data analysis is becoming per­vasive,” Forman said. “For an example, in the human­ities, word fre­quency analysis is used to help determine the authorship of con­tested writings. Every dis­ci­pline is being touched, so famil­iarity with some tech­nology for ana­lyzing data will be useful.”

According to Pro­fessor of Math and Com­puter Science Thomas Treloar, Forman hoped to attract a wide range of stu­dents.

Reg­istrar Douglas McArthur said there has never been a course over Fall Break during his time at Hillsdale. He expressed sur­prise that 17 stu­dents signed up for the 25 potential spots as soon as the class became available.

Treloar attributed the original class idea to Ken Koopmans, exec­utive director of Career Ser­vices.

Koopmans had the “idea of looking at con­nec­tions to the college, and seeing their skill set, and what they could offer,” Treloar said.

The course, which is listed as an inter­dis­ci­plinary study, covers slightly dif­ferent material than some courses already offered by the math department.

“There is some pro­gramming, but not as much pro­gramming as people would like,” Treloar said. “We have math stats classes already, and several courses are already pointing in that direction.”

Sophomore Caleb Ramette is taking the course because he saw it as an easy oppor­tunity to jump into Python pro­gramming.

“I don’t have the kind of time for a full class, so I’m thankful for this class giving me that oppor­tunity,” he said.

Ramette said he’s most inter­ested in using the class as a starting point, to learn the “base prin­ciples.”

“It’s easier to get that base first, then apply it to spe­cific problems.”