2020 Charlottesville Women in Data Science

April 14, 2020

“We need multi-disciplinary teams in the COVID-19 response. The answer to our social problem has to be a scientific one,” Mutale Nkondo, closing keynote speaker at the 2020 Charlottesville Women in Data Science, said. 

The University of Virginia School of Data Science held their annual Women in Data Science Conference [WiDS] on Friday, March 27-- this year in a virtual format, due to COVID-19.

An expert in both race and tech, Nkondo founded AI for the People, which is a non-profit that educates Black audiences about the social justice implications of the deployment of AI systems in public life.

In light of Covid-19, Nkondo decided to speak on “The Corona Response: The Need for Intersectional Technical Leadership.”

She emphasized the lack of access to medical care for black women and girls. Nkondo posed the question, “How do we deploy successful technologies to change this?”

Nkondo also discussed the problems with N95 masks being one size fits all, as the fit of these masks can be the difference between life and death. If these masks are made to fit an average man, how are women first responders protected?

She concluded urging the audience, no matter what field, to work together in responding to this crisis. 

"In order to serve the public interest, there have to be multi-disciplinary teams,” Nkondo said. “We need psychologists, business leaders, and data scientists to create a more just technological future.”

While, 2020 Charlottesville WiDS most definitely looked different than previous years, it brought together hundreds of women across the country to discuss leadership, opportunities, women in tech, challenges, and more. 

The virtual format increased accessibility to the conference.

The event was originally to be held in Alumni Hall, where the maximum number of people who could attend was 300. With the event moved online, 583 people registered, an unprecedented number for an event hosted by the School of Data Science. 

While the delivery of the conference changed, the agenda remained jam-packed for March 27, with one break in the day for lunch.

While closing keynote speaker, Mutale Nkondo, addressed the current crisis, opening keynote speaker Franziska Bell, the Senior Director of Accelerated Material Design and Discovery and Machine Assisted Cognition at Toyota Research Institute, spoke about human collaboration with AI.

The conference also featured Research Highlight Talks, featuring three women doing research in data science at UVA -- Dr. Cynthia Tong, Assistant Professor of Quantitative Psychology, Dr. Sana Syed, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and MSDS '20 Candidate School of Data Science, and Dr. Behnaz Moradi, Post-Doctoral Research Associate of Data Science.

Two panel sessions occurred in the afternoon. The first was called “Trust and Transparency: Preventing Bias with IBM.” This panel included five women working at IBM, all UVA graduates. They focused on ethical practices in data science. 

The second panel session was called, “Rising to the Top: A Panel with Women Leaders in Data Science.” This featured five women in data science in leadership positions and included Pri Oberoi, Senior Data Scientist at Axios, Korrin Reid, the Vice President of Data Science & Innovation at Craneware, Nashlie Sephus, Applied Science Manager at Amazon, and Kerry Guerrero, Senior Data Scientist at S&P Global.

This conference addressed the current crisis and the pressing need for ethical data science. 

“These are unprecedented times and WiDS was a perfect example of a community rallying to overcome adversity and carry on,” said Phil Bourne, Dean of the School of Data Science. “I am proud of everyone involved in keeping the critical message of diversity, equality and inclusion in data science on the front burner – it will help see us through this crisis.”