U-M Data Science expert volunteers support student learning for Native American tribal nations in Michigan

U-M Data Science expert volunteers support student learning for Native American tribal nations in Michigan

A team of undergraduate data science student volunteers at the University of Michigan are providing the Native American Tribal Nations in Michigan with the expertise and resources needed to better manage and analyze student data.

Education directors from three Michigan tribes contacted the Michigan Institute for Data Science (MIDAS) earlier this year seeking expertise to modernize their methods of data storage, query and reporting. Student data was scattered on Excel spreadsheets, older databases and on paper, with no easy way to combine and sort the data, let alone analyze them to track students’ academic performance and career choices and to assess the need for support.

In the summer, the U-M team, under the direction of Dr. Tayo Fabusuyi, assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and MIDAS affiliated faculty member, and lead by data science student Kristen Shaw, and computer science students Gustavo D’Mello, Yeonho Jang, and Troy Sorensen took on the development of a database and a website for the tribes. Through multiple iterations the team optimized performance and enhanced security of the database. Through constant communication with the Tribal educational directors, the team was also able to tailor the functionality of the database to the specific needs of each of the tribes.

“I wanted to work on this project because I see the project as a way of giving back, albeit in an infinitesimally small way of addressing historical injustices related to the broken promises made to the Native American tribes that made land gifts to the University,” said Fabusuyi. “It is particularly noteworthy that this effort is geared towards improving the human capital of Michigan’s Native American Tribal Nations.”

“Collaborating with community partners, such as the tribes, allows for the application of data science into impactful products, services, and policies, towards a better data-enabled society,” said H. V. Jagadish, the Bernard A. Galler Collegiate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and director of MIDAS, a unit based in the Office of the Vice President for Research. “Such collaboration also ensures that our work is inspired by real-world problems and rooted in real-world data. We create data science solutions for social good.”

The project is still ongoing – field testing is soon to be underway, allowing the tribal education departments to use the database and for the U-M team to address concerns that arise during its use. The project is slated for completion by the end of the Fall 2021 semester.

“We are thrilled to be working with the Michigan Institute for Data Science’s students and faculty.” says Jordan Shananaquet, Education Director of the Niigaandiwin Education Department in the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa tribe, “Creating this comprehensive database to track, analyze, and monitor tribal citizen students will go a great ways in equipping our Tribal nation with the tools we need to ultimately bring more opportunities to our Tribal citizens and community.”

Learn more about MIDAS’ efforts in using Data Science and AI for Social Good.

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