Professor Promotes Data Literacy With New Book

March 26, 2024
Adam Tashman
Adam Tashman is an associate professor of data science. (Photo by Alyssa Brown)

Adam Tashman has seen firsthand the value of teaching data science at the high school level.

In 2022, Tashman, an associate professor of data science at the University of Virginia, and one of his former master’s students, Matt Dakolios, launched a pilot course at The Covenant School in Charlottesville where they worked with high school students on data analysis, covering key tools and applications.

“My feeling was we can and should teach even really young kids,” Tashman said. “There are lots of opportunities where kids are doing math and science to just do more with data,” he said. 

The course went well, Tashman said, but it was also a lot of work, and he began to wonder how the materials he was developing could be used to promote data literacy on a larger scale. 

Out of this experience and the insights it provided emerged a new book, authored by Tashman, titled “From Concepts to Code: Introduction to Data Science," which was published in April. The book includes weekly lesson plans that could be used as part of a full-year introductory course for advanced high school or college students.

Tashman said he hopes the book will be a valuable resource for educators and students but also for anyone interested in learning more about this transformative discipline.  

The book is the latest step in Tashman’s journey to data science that began when he was a mathematics major at UVA. After graduating, he discovered that there was significant demand for quantitative analysts on Wall Street, positions known as quants, whose worked focused on derivative pricing, portfolio optimization, and risk management. 

Eventually, though, he discovered a new path. 

“I got excited about working in other areas apart from finance,” Tashman said. He would soon get an opportunity to lead a team of data scientists who worked on a variety of projects.  

In 2019 he joined the faculty of UVA’s School of Data Science where he has taught a wide range of courses on topics such as big data systems, R programming, and probability. He has also served as director of the online master’s program.

In November 2022 tragedy struck Charlottesville when UVA football players Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr., and D’Sean Perry were shot and killed on Grounds after returning from a class field trip. The incident had a profound impact on the University community, including on Tashman.

“I was just thinking, what is something that I could do that maybe could be helpful, just based on my background, my experience?” he said. 

So, using the materials he created during his work with The Covenant School, he got to work, waking up early every morning and writing about two pages per day.

After many months of writing, Tashman produced a resource that aims to demystify the world of data, educating readers on tools they can use to address data questions. 

For some, the book could serve as an entry point to a career in data science. But Tashman hopes that, even for readers who are not interesting in becoming a data scientist, the book will expand their data literacy and allow them to better understand the potential and impact of this rapidly expanding field.

“We’re all going to be faced with a lot of data, and unfortunately some of it can be quite technical,” Tashman said. “It can be easy for people to be misled or mislead with data.” 

“I really feel like, even if people don’t want to necessarily be a data scientist or mathematician, to have that literacy just gives them power to be able to critically examine things, even if it’s just reading the newspaper,” he added.

Tashman also hopes that readers of his new book will realize that data science is not just a field for people who already excel in math or computer science.

“It’s really about solving problems where data is at the forefront,” Tashman said, noting that he only took one computing class in college but developed into a good programmer through continued practice and motivation. 

“I feel like that there are a lot of people out there not giving themselves enough credit,” he said. 

In addition to his new book, Tashman recently worked with Siri Russell, associate dean for diversity, equity, inclusion, and community partnerships at the School of Data Science, to develop the content for the Data and Society Challenge, a competition for 11th and 12th grade students in Virginia to learn more about data science and the career opportunities it can provide. It’s all part of Tashman’s work to show young people that data science is a field that is both impactful and inclusive.

“It turns out, with data science you can make a nice living, you can improve the lives of people, and you can do things that you feel passionate about,” Tashman said. “I think if you get that, then you’ll be more motivated to keep an open mind and learn these tools.”


Senior Writer & Editor