William & Mary offers crash course in all things ‘data’
Each summer, AidData staff open their homes to students visiting the Williamsburg area to attend the research and innovation lab’s weeklong intensive orientation aptly titled Data Bootcamp. Before the students travel abroad to promote data literacy and use of aid information in decision-making, they get the opportunity to live and work with AidData staff who act as resources for any AidData-related questions and serve as the students’ own Williamsburg tour guides.
Data Bootcamp provides the opportunity for students in the Summer Fellows program to get to know each other and AidData. The fellows spend the week preparing to embark on exciting experiences where they will be working with overseas organizations on research-driven projects.
During orientation, the students are provided with a variety of technical tools, tutorials and resources to be able to answer questions and tackle problems in their respective host countries. In an effort to make the bootcamp as financially feasible as possible, AidData staff welcome the students into their own homes so they don’t have to reserve a hotel room in the area.
“Bootcamp is a great experience to get to know the students better as we sit around the dinner table each night talking about what they learned and what they hope to achieve,” says AidData Director of Operations David Trichler.
Before they pack their bags and head abroad to assist organizations in Bangladesh, Ghana, Senegal, Uganda and more, AidData’s faculty and staff provide them with in-depth instruction on topics ranging from how to train professionals on utilizing open data and geocoded information to how to successfully collaborate with others while in the field.
Throughout the various sessions, the fellows learn about everything from data manipulation to ArcGIS. The most popular session tends to be one on OpenRefine, an online tool that helps to clean messy data and turn it into something useful for analysis. Another popular session is on OpenStreetMap (OSM), a crowd-sourced map that can provide a lot more information than a standard map and has great utility in disaster situations. The group also enjoyed a welcome BBQ with AidData staff.
The individual fellows come to bootcamp with valuable technical or in-country expertise that their peers can learn from. For example, one of the students is working towards his master’s in GIS and has served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana. He was able to provide help and insight to other fellows who may have less technical and in-country experience.
According to an AidData staff member, the fellows who do the best are those who are resilient and willing to take on challenges and investigate solutions themselves before seeking help from others. Bootcamp empowers them with the resources to do just that.
Data Bootcamp is a part of AidData’s five-year program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN).