Updated: Oct 26
The Belmont Data Collaborative’s goal is to increase students’ statistical fluency and provide local, professional research on relevant community issues.
The BDC was founded in 2021 when Belmont President Greg Jones identified the increasing “data-tization” of our world, he said. Belmont has strived to educate its students accordingly, with both technical skills and moral understanding of the topic.
The collaborative had buzz around campus at its launch, securing a $60 million initial investment and getting local news coverage. But despite its office in the centrally located Jack C. Massey Center, many students still are unsure what the Data Collaborative does.
The collaborative does not do research on Belmont students, but it does assist professors by helping them incorporate data skills into their courses.
“It’s crucial that proper data techniques and instructional strategies are implemented in every classroom that will aid and tailor student engagement with data,” said BDC Assistant Director Joe Fitzgerald who helps incorporate data into existing curriculums.
The BDC’s contributions to the Belmont student body also include founding the Belmont Data Experience, a student-run organization that seeks to involve the community in data science.
“You don’t have to be a data science major,” BDE President Hannah Deweese said. “We have members from every college on campus.”
Brian Catts, a junior at Belmont, said coming to a BDE meeting inspired him to try to fit in a data analytics minor as he pursues his master’s in business administration degree.
In addition to the group’s bi-weekly meetings, it hosts “hack-a-thon” events where students are given raw data and asked to answer the questions “what do you notice?” and “what could you do to improve that?” DeWeese said.
Hack-a-thons mirror what the collaborative does, but in an educational environment. The process reflects the collaborative’s process, which begins by identifying a problem then concludes with an actionable solution.
The collaborative also helps students by inviting industry professionals to speak at BDE meetings, including people from Amazon and HCA Healthcare.
The collaborative aims to release annual reports on local issues and has published three so far. These reports have studied local physical and mental health issues as well as human trafficking data.
The BDC’s most recent study, released in August, focused on mental health. It identified populations vulnerable to symptoms of anxiety, then shared the data with the mental health resource group CaringWays to help focus its campaign where it could be more effective.
In addition to actionable solutions, the collaborative aims to use its data ethically.
“Belmont’s Christ-centered mission distinctively equips us to examine questions around the ethical uses of data,” Jones said during the BDC’s launch announcement in 2021.
To do so, there is a set of goals BDC researchers abide by while conducting research and hosting events.
“We have a multi-faceted approach to data,” says Administrative Coordinator Hannah Coulter. “It’s three-fold with our commitments to data for all, data for good and data for diversity.”
“Data for All” represents the BDC’s view that data is important for every student at Belmont, meaning data is being incorporated into all majors. It also represents its involvement at local high schools to help younger students’ data literacy.
“Data for Good” refers to how the BDC uses its data: identifying problems within the local area then finding local nonprofits that can do the actual groundwork to provide help.
“Data for Diversity” applies to how it gathers and interprets research.
“We want to make sure we have a diverse set of people actually assessing and reviewing the results,” Coulter said. “We don’t want to pigeonhole the data.”
The Belmont Data Collaborative employs these strategies for the same reason it was founded: today’s world runs on data.
“Everything is embedded with data,” said Rudolph Bedeley, BDC contributor and BDE faculty adviser. “You need to know how to get to it. You could be walking on a gold mine.”
This article was written by Matt Sinofsky.
This article was updated for clarity.