‘A Big Moment’: Online Data Science Master’s Students Present Capstone Projects

May 6, 2024
A graphic showing UVA's Rotunda with the words M.S. in Data Science Online
The online data science master's program is designed for working professionals.

This was no ordinary Zoom call. 

During a recent virtual gathering, students in the University of Virginia’s online data science master’s program shared the findings of their capstone projects with faculty and classmates, a signature achievement for the soon-to-be graduating class of newly minted data scientists.

“This is a big, big, big moment,” said Jon Kropko, Quantitative Foundation Associate Professor of Data Science and director of the online master’s program, in kicking off the presentation event.

Capstone projects have been a central component of both the online and residential data science master’s degree programs since their inception. To complete them, students work in small groups in collaboration with a faculty mentor to tackle a real-world research question from an outside sponsor. Sponsors come from a wide range of sectors and disciplines. 

“For many of you, it’s the kind of exposure to data and methods and practical applications that really is going to drive you forward in your careers,” said Phil Bourne, founding dean of the School of Data Science, in introductory remarks.

The timing of the presentations — in the evening, following the workday — was appropriate, given that students in the online program juggle an array of responsibilities, including full-time jobs, while completing their academic requirements. 

Kropko noted that the areas covered by this year’s data science capstones reflect the breadth of the field.

“The talks you will hear tonight will demonstrate just how widespread the use of data has become,” he said. 

These were just some of the subjects covered by the evening’s presentations: the development of large language models to better interpret academic language; the use of LLMs to summarize medical records; the analysis of LiDAR data through advanced neural networks; and an assessment of whether cultural training of teachers improved student outcomes. 

Sponsors were similarly diverse and included UVA Health and the Albemarle County School District, among others.

The night was a mix of technical analysis and audience questions, but perhaps most importantly it was an occasion to pay tribute to students who, through commitment and sacrifice, were now poised to take the next steps in their careers as data scientists. 

“Thank you, students, for all this hard work,” said Adam Tashman, an associate professor of data science and capstone program director. “I know what a lift that is, and you have done great things.”


Senior Writer & Editor