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I just returned from a weeklong Summer Institute on Computational Social Science at New York University. The Institute offered theoretical discussions about the ways in which researchers can use massive data sets and online collaboration to answer questions of interest for people who study human behavior. For example, you could design a survey of how much people believe in upward social mobility and have thousands of people around the world respond to it by paying them a couple pennies to complete the task (yes, there are thousands of people online waiting for surveys to be sent out to make a little coin).
I learned a bit about a lot of online platforms, programming languages and ways to access “big data" sets. Honestly, my head still hurts a bit two weeks later. But I am proud of myself for going to a six-day conference in an area where I don’t have a lot of skill--and just giving it my best. My summer data project goals, by contrast, are a bit more modest: I want to begin to look at the annual student assessment and US Census demographic data for a school district in southern California that interests me.
Last winter, I volunteered for a few months with the East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring Program(EPATT). Designed for low-income, Latino and African American middle and high school students in the East Palo Alto community, EPATT brings the students to Stanford's campus two or three days a week. They spend at least an hour learning how to play tennis, and then get an hour of tutoring. I worked with a sixth grader named Jose—until my allergy and breathing problems forced me to stop. Over the summer, I will be exploring other ways to engage with my community.