Making data science methods more accessible across academia and the public/nonprofit sector will speed up the rate at which we can identify problems and find solutions.
An astonishing amount of data is collected in education—a typical student will accumulate millions of data points, between preschool and high school graduation alone, ranging from standardized tests to administrative logs—yet leveraging all that information to drive improvement is a persistent challenge.
Jose Hernandez (PhD ‘15) is working to bridge that gap by making education data more accessible and actionable.
During his graduate studies at the University of Washington College of Education, Hernandez recalls taking a statistics course with Associate Professor Elizabeth Sanders. In her course, Sanders modeled the practice of making technical information accessible to students who had varying levels of previous experience with statistics.
According to Hernandez, Sanders emphasized that, “You could be really technical and an expert in very specific statistics, but you have to be able to communicate that to other people.”
This practical lesson was one that would influence the rest of Hernandez’s academic career.
“I knew that was something I wanted to be able to do,” Hernandez recalls. “I always wanted to be able to explain to my mom what I do, and the only way I can do that is if I simplify it and think of examples she would understand. So I always ask myself that question: would my mom understand this memo?”
As immigrants from Mexico, Hernandez’s parents came to the U.S. in the late 1970s and settled in South Central Los Angeles, Calif., where Hernandez went to elementary school. Hernandez’s family later moved to Santa Ana, Calif., and despite attending a high poverty high school, Hernandez was supported by great counselors within the school and great mentors from the nearby University of California, Irvine’s Center for Educational Partnerships.
Thanks to that support, Hernandez graduated from the University of California, Irvine with a bachelor’s degree in social ecology. Upon graduating, following his mentors footsteps, he took a job helping other families and students from underrepresented communities pursue higher education as an outreach coordinator at the Center for Educational Partnerships.
“That experience planted the seed of my desire to go back into the community and help in terms of their educational aspirations and outcomes. I acknowledge the mentors in this program for leading on my own educational journey.”
The work also stoked Hernandez’s desire to become a leader in the field of education and, following a mentor’s suggestion, he soon found himself in the UW’s graduate program in measurement and statistics.
For his dissertation research, Hernandez assessed the performance of a variety of statistical methods used to determine causal inference in the absence of randomization on complex data structures. His PhD studies were supported by a predoctoral fellowship through the Institute of Education Sciences, which emphasized and supported training in both quantitative and qualitative methods.
After completing his PhD, Hernandez went on to work as a research scientist for the Center on Reinventing Public Education, where he provided quantitative expertise across a variety of projects. During that time he was selected to participate as a fellow with Insight Data Science, a program designed to train and support academics on a successful career transition into the data science field. This led him to his first job as a data scientist for the Community Center for Education Results (CCER). CCER supports the RoadMap Project, a group of organizations that work together to improve educational outcomes for students in seven school districts in south King County.
“They wanted someone who could make sense of the data, apply rigorous methodology, and be able to communicate those findings,” Hernandez said. “We were helping people on the ground connect data with educational outcomes so that they could make better decisions about how their programs are impacting their students.”
As a data scientist for CCER, Hernandez views students, parents, administrators and the community as clients, since they inform his approach to data science. Most of all, he values the connection he is able to make between the people who are represented in the data and how those findings can be used in supporting students at school and at home.
Now, Hernandez splits his time between the RoadMap Project and the UW eScience Institute. The mission of the eScience Institute is holistic, as it seeks to support intensive data discovery across all fields. This summer he will be a data science lead in their Data Science for Social Good program (DSSG).
In the future, Hernandez intends to continue researching data science methodology and their application on social science and education data. He recognizes that data science is traditionally siloed in the hard-science/technology sector and is curious to see how those methods can be leveraged to practically improve educational outcomes for all students.
“At the heart of data science is developing open source tools that address specific problems using data," Hernandez said. "I think that making data science methods more accessible across academia and the public/nonprofit sector will speed up the rate at which we can identify problems and find solutions. Making it possible for more people to take that approach to research is incredibly valuable.”
Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications