Giving back with the power of data science

After graduating from the University of Maryland in 2011, Kerry Jones began his career as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Defense. While there, he had the chance to meet colleagues of Don Brown, the founding director of the Data Science Institute (DSI).

“They had nothing but good things to say about him and the program,” Kerry says. “That’s when I first gained some interest in DSI.” 

He noted the huge push within government agencies to focus on data science in general and began to think about how a degree from the DSI could boost his career. “I knew that this would be a good opportunity,” he says. “And compared with some of the other programs I looked at, DSI was probably one of the most applied programs I had seen.”

“Compared with some of the other programs I looked at, DSI was probably one of the most applied programs I had seen.”

As the Master of Science in Data Science (MSDS) program kicked off, Kerry enjoyed gaining exposure to research and topics that he previously hadn’t learned much about. He found a course on vision and language conceptually challenging and acquired a great deal of knowledge and tools that he knew he could bring back to his current employer and add value to his team.

For his capstone project, Kerry joined a team of students working on a cyber-security challenge that aimed to detect network intrusions in the University of Virginia’s system. Along the way, he says that his team had to be agile to find solutions to the various problems that cropped up. “Overall, I think it’s been a good learning experience for me. I was coming from a research background working with other PhDs, but I hadn’t done my own research before,” he says. 

Beyond the practical skills he’s acquired, Kerry says the intensity of the MSDS program has taught him how to manage deadlines and think outside of the box. “A lot of times we stick to what we’ve learned and don’t want to try new things,” he says. “And I’ve realized that it’s 100% OK to try new things. You might be wrong, and that’s fine, but it’s still an important experience to try new things, and the professors here know that.”

As he prepares to return to Washington, DC, and resume his role at the Department of Defense, Kerry says he is grateful for the community that DSI has fostered. 

“DSI is building more of a presence in DC as well,” he says, “and since I’m going back to DC, I’m happy to know that I’ll be able to connect with other people who will be a part of this program in the future as well as the past.”

He says that his experience at the DSI has also motivated him to give back to his broader community at home. “When I go back to DC, I am interested in doing mentorship in some after-school programs,” he says. 

After attending the NBA Basketball Analytics Hackathon in September 2016, along with other MSDS students, Kerry says he was inspired to bring that experience to young students who loved sports or culture—and to show them that there’s a way that data science can you unite your passions and provide you with a career in high demand. 

“I’d want to show the kids that there are other ways to make money besides getting famous,” Kerry says. “You can still pursue what you love—but apply data science to it. I’d like to share that with kids and talk about my experience here.”