Corinne Kenwood / Sun Staff Photographer

The Cornell data science class with five undergraduate teachers meets at Gates Hall every Wednesday at 5pm.

April 13, 2017

Undergrad-Led Course Crushes Enrollment Expectations

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Though Cornell may be well known for its distinguished professors, this semester a course taught entirely by undergraduate students has redefined the traditional class environment for the University, tripling its expected enrollment and encouraging greater passion in data science among students.

The Cornell Data Science Training Program is a one-credit course offered Wednesdays at 5 p.m. in Gates Hall G01. The five undergraduate members of the Cornell Data Science Project Team — Chase Thomas ’19, Dae Won Kim ’17, Jared Lim ’20, Amit Mizrahi ’19 and Kenta Takatsu ’19 — lead the class as instructors.

According to the instructors, they originally planned to launch their course to approximately 40 people, but now have over 150 students enrolled.

“During the first lecture, there wasn’t even enough room to seat everyone,” Mizrahi said. “People were sitting in the aisles. But I guess that was a good problem to have.”

“We met over Skype almost every day over winter break working on the course,” Kim said.  “There has been some element of trial and error. We have had to revise slides and instructions that are unclear or too dense. It has been a learning experience for us in how give a lecture and different teaching styles.”

The instructors distinguish their course by focusing on implementation. In fact, students were writing code within the first week.

“Many other data science classes at Cornell teach the theory and the math behind it, but there isn’t really a practical hands-on approach that starts with coding,” Mizrahi said.

This hands-on approach allows the students to gain exposure to data and computer science quickly, even if they have never taken a course of this sort before.

While it is recommended that students take Computer Science 1110: Introduction to Computing Using Python, there is no prerequisite for the course. Students of any class year and major are eligible, even if they have no prior experience with data science.

“The course serves as a gateway to data science for underclassmen or those who may not have that much prior experience,” Kim said.

“There are even masters students enrolled,” Thomas added.

The teaching process also allowed the instructors themselves to benefit from the course.

“Teaching reinforced our own knowledge,” Kim said. “I’ve gone back to study the material more so that I am able to better explain it to others.”

Although they experienced minor setbacks in their endeavors, the instructors are beyond satisfied of their progress.

“Since this is our first time teaching the course, we have encountered obstacles such as inconsistencies in assignments,” Kim admitted. “However, we are learning and are overall very happy with where this class has gone.”

Moving forward, the instructors aim to diversify their curriculum and offer more courses.

“We currently teach the computer language R in this course, but we want to expand to Python as well,” Lin said.

“In the future, we hope to create more classes,” Thomas added. “We have so many ideas that rather than asking ourselves ‘what can we do?’ it’s ‘which should we pursue?’”

The team of instructors has received praise not only from the undergraduate student body, but recognition from the College of Engineering.

“Our core team actually received the Albert R. George Student Team Award for our leadership in creating this training program and for the speed with which it was done,” said Thomas.

The course will be offered next semester, but will not be available on Student Center during pre-enrollment. Students will be able to register for the course during the add-drop period in August.