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Students tackle real corporate problems in classroom with CMDA

When was your first corporate board room presentation? People seated around a table, or in rows. All eyes on you. Executives’ eyes on you. You were given a problem, told to figure it out, and come up with a solution. First month on the job? Second? First year?

Students in the Computational Modeling and Data Analytics major, part of the Academy of Integrated Science program, will have that scenario under their belt before they graduate. And that makes them sure-fire hits for hiring in the world of data science.

The CMDA mission: infuse undergraduate students with a blend of skills from computer science, statistics, and mathematics, enabling them to not just understand the world’s biggest challenges but to use data to identify solutions.

“Real world” challenges mandate a “real world” test. So, before CMDA students walk away from Virginia Tech with a degree, Mark Embree, the Department of Mathematics professor who leads the CMDA program, has them form teams to tackle a problem. “We’re trying to give students experiences here that model a real professional environment, so they can make some mistakes in class, and not make the same mistakes when they take their first job,” he said.

The CMDA program assigns students a real issue that a company or government agency is wrestling with. Getting needed blood to war-torn areas. Improving supply chain logistics for GE Aviation. Halting the terrifying crime of human trafficking. The student teams research the issue and develop solutions. Then they present the results to their colleagues and, yes, even a few corporate or nonprofit executives.

At the end of last semester, 24 teams presented the results of their capstone projects.

The students know the value of this real-world work. CMDA alumna Dasha Savina told us before she graduated, “It’s really interesting to get a chance to talk to people that are actually in industry … and be able to apply what we’ve learned, to prepare for meetings and communicate with the client.” She is now a cognitive and analytics consultant at IBM.

For further reading and a video on this unique classroom experience, visit Students tackle real-world corporate problems in computational modeling and data analytics capstone project

Dasha and CMDA students and sponsors pose for photo
From left to right, GE Aviation’s Stefanie Darlington, Will Blanton, Dasha Savina, Blake Sharp, Jon Cooper, and Angie Patterson, also of GE Aviation and also a Ph.D. alumna of the Department of Statistics. Blaton, Savina, Sharp, and Cooper all have graduated since this photo was taken.