Briana Vecchione

The Data Scientist
Former Pace University student, Briana Vecchione

Katherine Jonson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson—those were the names of the three African-American women at NASA who served as the brains behind astronaut John Glenn’s launch into orbit and also the subjects of the film, aptly named Hidden Figures.

There may not be as many women in STEM, but don’t doubt ever their impact.

During her time at Pace and the two years since she graduated, Briana Vecchione ’16 has been making her impact on technology—from working on a research project for Microsoft to analyze the network flow of Citi Bike to developing digital ship navigation controls as part of a team in Helsinki, Finland, to developing a series of open data dashboards for local government to bringing cloud-based language translation services to New York’s municipal ID card applicants. Her work has been supported by scholarships from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), and the Anita Borg Institute. She’s been a panelist, feature, or keynote at venues like Bloomberg, Microsoft, NASA HQ, Facebook, Sony, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Carnegie Mellon, and most recently, served as a Civic Tech Fellow at Microsoft, where she developed open data dashboards for local government.

Now, she’s working on a different program: a PhD at Cornell University, where she’ll studyissues of fairness and transparency in machine learning/artificial intelligence.

What is a Datanaut and how did you get involved with the NASA program?

The NASA Datanauts initiative is an international community of developers, data scientists, designers, students, entrepreneurs, and community organizers looking to further develop their data science skills through the use of NASA's open data. Admission to the Datanauts class provides access to a collaborative community and the opportunity to contribute to technical projects, take workshops, and build mentorships within NASA's data science team. Some of the topics covered include machine learning, natural language processing, web-based space mission visualizations, orbital dynamics, and more. A professional contact of mine was a member of the inaugural class, which is how I found out about it and sent in an application. It's been a great opportunity to learn and work with ambitious professionals with similar interests—I've even met some of my closest friends through the program! The application for new Datanauts opens twice a year, so keep an eye out if you're interested.

What was your favorite or most eye-opening experience during your time at Microsoft?

My favorite project I worked on during my Microsoft fellowship is BoardStat, a series of open data dashboards using NYC’s 311 data for Community Boards. This is a project Microsoft built in collaboration with the Manhattan Borough President’s Office and BetaNYC, who came to us with prior research around the need for data-driven decision making within hyperlocal government. My role was to translate this research into a functional tool. Throughout the process, we held regular meetings with board members and liaisons to emphasize user-testing by understanding use cases and product needs. BoardStat was the theme of this year’s National Day of Civic Hacking, where it was launched by Noel Hidalgo and Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer. On this day, I was able to teach a day-long tutorial on open-source data dashboarding in order to democratize skillsets and empower individuals to build tools. We were also able to present our work at Bloomberg’s Data for Good Exchange as well as Stanford’s Digital Impact NYC.

One of my roles as a fellow was to figure out how a company like Microsoft can use its resources to empower others, and seeing this project grow and launch has been a clear example of how corporations can delegate their assets to help achieve a public need. Being able to develop a solution alongside government officials and an insanely focused local nonprofit has been what I consider the definition of effective civic technology.

BoardStat is hosted on Gale Brewer’s site now.

 

 

 

When did you decide to pursue your PhD? What/where will you study and what are you hoping to do both as research and with the degree?

I decided I wanted a PhD through the Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School, where I was introduced to applied data and computational social science. My team's research addressed the problem of algorithmic routing optimization within New York City’s bike share program (Our extended abstract can be found here). We presented our findings at the ACM KDD at Bloomberg conference as well as the ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing, where we received an ACM award for undergraduate research. After such an amazing first research experience, it was an easy choice to apply for a doctorate. I'll be beginning my PhD at Cornell University's CIS department this fall, where I'll be studying artificial intelligence and its socioeconomic effects.

What are you working on now?

At the moment, I'm working on a paper with some researchers at Microsoft that pushes the AI industry into increased transparency and accountability standards. For this paper, we're focusing on proposing new transparency models for human-centric datasets, commercial APIs, and pretrained models. I can't talk much about it quite yet, but will be sure to forward the paper along once it's published!

What advice would you give to young girls interested in tech?

It's easy to feel like an outsider in fields where young girls might not fit the traditional stereotype of what technical professionals are assumed to look like, but this is a fallacy! Women have actually shaped the computing industry and are considered some of the first programmers during the early 20th century (brought to the screen recently through Hidden Figures). I'd also look into Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper to start. For some current real-world examples, check out the Wogrammer or Women of Silicon Valley communities.

You’ve accomplished so much in such a short time. What has been your proudest accomplishment thus far? And what do you hope it will be in 10 years?

Thank you! I actually feel like I haven't made the professional impact I'm looking for yet and am still just beginning. Though being accepted into a PhD program was a top priority and I'm very proud of it, my most valued accomplishment will always be making my family, friends, and loved ones proud.

Former Pace University student, Briana Vecchione

Katherine Jonson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson—those were the names of the three African-American women at NASA who served as the brains behind astronaut John Glenn’s launch into orbit and also the subjects of the film, aptly named Hidden Figures.

There may not be as many women in STEM, but don’t doubt ever their impact.

During her time at Pace and the two years since she graduated, Briana Vecchione ’16 has been making her impact on technology—from working on a research project for Microsoft to analyze the network flow of Citi Bike to developing digital ship navigation controls as part of a team in Helsinki, Finland, to developing a series of open data dashboards for local government to bringing cloud-based language translation services to New York’s municipal ID card applicants. Her work has been supported by scholarships from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), and the Anita Borg Institute. She’s been a panelist, feature, or keynote at venues like Bloomberg, Microsoft, NASA HQ, Facebook, Sony, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Carnegie Mellon, and most recently, served as a Civic Tech Fellow at Microsoft, where she developed open data dashboards for local government.

Now, she’s working on a different program: a PhD at Cornell University, where she’ll studyissues of fairness and transparency in machine learning/artificial intelligence.

What is a Datanaut and how did you get involved with the NASA program?

The NASA Datanauts initiative is an international community of developers, data scientists, designers, students, entrepreneurs, and community organizers looking to further develop their data science skills through the use of NASA's open data. Admission to the Datanauts class provides access to a collaborative community and the opportunity to contribute to technical projects, take workshops, and build mentorships within NASA's data science team. Some of the topics covered include machine learning, natural language processing, web-based space mission visualizations, orbital dynamics, and more. A professional contact of mine was a member of the inaugural class, which is how I found out about it and sent in an application. It's been a great opportunity to learn and work with ambitious professionals with similar interests—I've even met some of my closest friends through the program! The application for new Datanauts opens twice a year, so keep an eye out if you're interested.

What was your favorite or most eye-opening experience during your time at Microsoft?

My favorite project I worked on during my Microsoft fellowship is BoardStat, a series of open data dashboards using NYC’s 311 data for Community Boards. This is a project Microsoft built in collaboration with the Manhattan Borough President’s Office and BetaNYC, who came to us with prior research around the need for data-driven decision making within hyperlocal government. My role was to translate this research into a functional tool. Throughout the process, we held regular meetings with board members and liaisons to emphasize user-testing by understanding use cases and product needs. BoardStat was the theme of this year’s National Day of Civic Hacking, where it was launched by Noel Hidalgo and Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer. On this day, I was able to teach a day-long tutorial on open-source data dashboarding in order to democratize skillsets and empower individuals to build tools. We were also able to present our work at Bloomberg’s Data for Good Exchange as well as Stanford’s Digital Impact NYC.

One of my roles as a fellow was to figure out how a company like Microsoft can use its resources to empower others, and seeing this project grow and launch has been a clear example of how corporations can delegate their assets to help achieve a public need. Being able to develop a solution alongside government officials and an insanely focused local nonprofit has been what I consider the definition of effective civic technology.

BoardStat is hosted on Gale Brewer’s site now.

 

 

 

When did you decide to pursue your PhD? What/where will you study and what are you hoping to do both as research and with the degree?

I decided I wanted a PhD through the Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School, where I was introduced to applied data and computational social science. My team's research addressed the problem of algorithmic routing optimization within New York City’s bike share program (Our extended abstract can be found here). We presented our findings at the ACM KDD at Bloomberg conference as well as the ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing, where we received an ACM award for undergraduate research. After such an amazing first research experience, it was an easy choice to apply for a doctorate. I'll be beginning my PhD at Cornell University's CIS department this fall, where I'll be studying artificial intelligence and its socioeconomic effects.

What are you working on now?

At the moment, I'm working on a paper with some researchers at Microsoft that pushes the AI industry into increased transparency and accountability standards. For this paper, we're focusing on proposing new transparency models for human-centric datasets, commercial APIs, and pretrained models. I can't talk much about it quite yet, but will be sure to forward the paper along once it's published!

What advice would you give to young girls interested in tech?

It's easy to feel like an outsider in fields where young girls might not fit the traditional stereotype of what technical professionals are assumed to look like, but this is a fallacy! Women have actually shaped the computing industry and are considered some of the first programmers during the early 20th century (brought to the screen recently through Hidden Figures). I'd also look into Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper to start. For some current real-world examples, check out the Wogrammer or Women of Silicon Valley communities.

You’ve accomplished so much in such a short time. What has been your proudest accomplishment thus far? And what do you hope it will be in 10 years?

Thank you! I actually feel like I haven't made the professional impact I'm looking for yet and am still just beginning. Though being accepted into a PhD program was a top priority and I'm very proud of it, my most valued accomplishment will always be making my family, friends, and loved ones proud.