With WPI’s history as a global leader in project-based learning, it is only fitting that graduate students would benefit from the same kind of hands-on experiences undergrads have had for years at WPI. The data science program is making sure that opportunity isn’t missed by offering an externally sponsored Graduate Qualifying Project (GQP)–based experience to all graduate students in the data science program as an integral part of their education. Students and faculty in the program find that working on projects for sponsors challenges them to bring to bear all technical and professional skills they have learned in a holistic fashion to tackle real-world challenges.
When associate teaching professor of data science Fatemeh Emdad joined WPI four years ago, the idea of data science graduate students working on projects was just beginning to form. Director of data science and professor of computer science Elke Rundensteiner and Emdad knew graduate-level project work would offer value-added experience that would impact students’ graduate studies and their job prospects.
The first data science GQP launched in 2015 and since then all students in the Data Science MS program have been given the opportunity to work on a sponsored GQP project. “This is an amazing opportunity for sponsors and students,” says Emdad. “Students learn from the sponsors and all that they do in the industry. But the sponsors also learn from the students and the ideas they bring. Students can apply their knowledge to the challenging problems industry has.”
All of the students who have participated in a data science GQP have accepted post-graduation job offers, says Emdad. Whether it’s a sponsor who extends an offer to a student on one of the teams or an organization impressed by the student’s accomplishments while still in school, the GQP, she says, plays a major role.