iSchool Students Win Top Prizes in Women in Data Science Event

June 7, 2021


University of Arizon School of Information undergraduate students Riley Zuckert and Katie Ferencik placed in the Women in Data Science, or WiDS, Tucson Data Blitz contest. Riley Zuckert received first place for her presentation “Quantifying Empathy: An Algorithmic Assessment of Politeness in Medical Education” and Ferencik received second place for her presentation “Data Science as a Method of Business Development.”

The WiDS is an initiative that “aims to inspire and educate data scientists worldwide, regardless of gender, and to support women in the field,” according to their website. What began as a one-day conference in California has transformed into hundreds of regional conferences worldwide.

Organized by the University of Arizona, WiDS Tucson provides a forum for women to share technical information about their projects, to hear about the latest data science research, and to connect with others in the field. The April 21, 2021 Data Blitz event allowed students, faculty, and other data scientists to present their research in three-minute lightning talks.

Quantifying Politeness in Medical Education

Zuckert’s first-place presentation focused on developing an algorithm that can assess the politeness of medical professionals during patient interviewing, with the goal of improving their bedside manner skills.

Zuckert is conducting a survey to gauge the layperson’s perceptions on the politeness of medical questions, and then she plans to train a machine learning model to help predict and encourage polite questions from healthcare professionals.

“I think it is time to bring patient-directed medical care to the forefront of medicine and re-emphasize empathy and bedside manner in the standards for caretaking,” Zuckert said.

“I am so grateful to the WiDS community for such an amazing first conference presentation experience, especially as undergraduates so rarely have the chance to present their work at this high of a level with such esteemed colleagues,” Zuckert said. “It was an honor to learn from such a great group of women and having them share their stage with me was truly invaluable. Thank you to WiDS Tucson and to the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences for the springboard into the data science industry.”

Using Data to Aid in Business Development

Katie Ferencik’s presentation focused on how data science aids in business development. By accessing data, asking the right questions, considering data from multiple viewpoints, and cleaning and analyzing data, people can make better business decisions.

Ferencik has served in the U.S. Army for over 20 years. She competed professionally for the Army in Dressage, and in 2015, she won the Arabian Sport Horse National Championships. In spring 2020, Ferencik transferred to the University of Arizona to obtain a B.S. in Information Science and Technology. As an undergraduate, she has conducted research with Jackpot Veterinary Clinic and the Tucson Police Officers Association.

An entrepreneur, Ferencik was inspired to enter the competition by her mentor Adriana Picoral, assistant professor in the iSchool.

“I decided that my overall presentation would be on how data science is a method of business development, because for me, when I began learning about data science, it was like magic – like that missing link that I'd been looking for my entire professional career, and I wanted to share that aspect of my journey.”

“Winning this award was incredible,” Ferencik added. “It validated my work and has bolstered my resolve that I'm on the right track. Getting to present it to, and receive feedback from, a field of brilliant data scientists is indescribable. I'm truly honored.”