Inaugural MSDS Online Cohort Graduates

December 16, 2020

The inaugural online MSDS cohort has been a class of firsts. 

“This cohort was the first to do everything with us,” said Cathy Anderson, Interim Assistant Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs, who managed the launch of the online MSDS program. 

She reflected back to their first week as students in the program in the summer of 2019. 

“They were the first to take our online orientation and online tech boot camp,” Anderson said.

The fully online, part-time MSDS program allows students to take their courses from anywhere, attending the same classroom online. This graduating class has virtually brought together students from Hawaii, New York, the UK, and right here in Charlottesville. 

Logging 138 hours of synchronous virtual class time per student, students completed their evening course work while continuing to work full-time jobs. This course work includes Data Mining, Bayesian Machine Learning, Ethics of Big Data, and Practice and Application - just to name a few. The School of Data Science’s flexible academic model allows students to gain their degree while applying their new knowledge in the working world.

The inaugural class spends their daytime hours at an impressive group of companies, including Microsoft, Facebook, Bloomberg, and Deloitte. 

“After completing my undergraduate degree at UVA, I was excited to begin my professional career,” said Brooke Williams, who will graduate this December. “The part-time Masters of Science in Data Science program allowed me to continue my career and still achieve the masters.”

Williams works as a Quality Data Manager at the UVA Hospital. She is excited to apply her skills from the MSDS program to work and patients’ lives. 

“I hope to use it [MSDS degree] to progress in my career in healthcare data and technology,” Williams said. “I love using technical skills to have a practical impact on the lives of people who need it.”

Capstones Projects on Current, Relevant News

This cohort completed five capstone projects, which covered highly relevant topics, from the pandemic to the election. 

Just like in the residential program, every online MSDS student must complete a capstone project throughout the program. Students work in groups to solve a problem with data science. 

“They were the first to do online capstones with the School of Data Science in the midst of a global pandemic, sharing their results with an online audience of over 300 at Datapalooza, which helped show all of us that teaching a rigorous program PT online is possible and indeed an incredible success,” Anderson said.

Watch the students give their capstone presentations at Datapalooza 2020 here.

MSDS students Matt Thomas, Ben Rogers, Spencer Marusco, and Chad Sopota built a model to forecast the 2020 presidential election for their capstone project. 

“We built the model as part of the project to compare with other well known election model forecasts,” Thomas said. “After the election, the plan is to evaluate our model along with others to see what went right or wrong and see what it tells us about how elections are decided.”

Their model was effective, predicting every state accurately, except for Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia, which were all swing states and difficult to predict for all models out there. Their model combined a polling-based model and a fundamentals model. (Read more about their project here.)

Brooke Williams, Cory Yemen, and Kevin Lennon did their capstone project on COVID-19, specifically, identifying potentially effective therapeutics by comparing patient health outcomes based on two factors - “their effectiveness across a large sample of patients given the patients' expected outcomes and the molecular binding propensity of the therapeutic to one of the binding sites on the 29 different Covid-19 proteins.”

Jordan Bales and Will Carruthers used machine learning and satellite imagery to assess infrastructure damage, that typically occurs after a natural disaster. 

Jae Hyun Lee, Cullen Baker, and Jason Lwin did their capstone project on using Twitter to understand public attitudes toward COVID-19. Specifically, they used sentiment analysis and explored attitudes with word embeddings. 

Kevin Finity, Ramit Garg, and Maxwell McGaw collected presidential speech transcripts and used text analysis techniques to find distinguishing characteristics. 

How This Cohort Has Shaped the Program

Now, with four additional cohorts after them, this first group of students paved the way for the program.

“They have reached back to share their experiences with others in the program behind them to provide advice and encouragement, which provided us with incredibly important feedback all along the way,” Anderson said.

With a range of life stages, backgrounds, and experiences, this class has one thing in common -- their impact as the inaugural online cohort and the path they have paved for professionals to come. 

“I would call them the trailblazers,” said Chauncey Smith, Student Success Coach. “They were the first to do the program and pave a path for so many new students to come. They are all exceptional students, and I can't wait to see what the future holds for them.”

Want to learn more? If you or someone you know is interested in joining the next cohort of the online MSDS, contact the School of Data Science Online Enrollment Team at (434) 264-5759 or email