Student’s big data skills may lead to cleaner air
December 13, 2019
Radhica Kanniganti works for a startup company in India, home to some of the world’s most-polluted cities. She hopes to improve lives in her work as an environmental engineer for the Bangalore-based company Devic Earth, testing a device that reduces air pollution by employing radio waves.
Her job – requiring analyses of wind speeds, rainfall, temperatures, and more across India – led her to Virginia Tech’s new India-based noncredit certificate program in business analytics.
“I needed to master the tools of big data,” Kanniganti said. “Our pollution-control device, the Pure Skies 3000, reduces particulates by at least 50 percent – but that’s indoors. When you’re measuring outdoor pollution, the challenges of proof are greater, as we must account for many variables as we collect a wide spectrum of meteorological data.”
Kanniganti became one of 14 students who received a certificate in business analytics and artificial intelligence in the program’s first graduation ceremony in November in Chennai, home of Virginia Tech, India. The certificate program was designed for people like Kanniganti who lack a technical computer-programming background yet need to master the tools of big data.
“At my workplace, we were looking at massive amounts of information using spreadsheets,” Kanniganti said with a laugh. “I needed a better way to visualize and model the data so that we could demonstrate that the reduction in pollution we were seeing is the result of Pure Skies 3000. This can be harder to demonstrate when factors change, such as wind direction or rain, come into the picture, both of which have an impact on air quality.”
Cyril Clarke, executive vice president and provost, said, “Our students, faculty, and alumni in India and around the world are helping to redefine Virginia Tech as a university that is not limited by the physical and programmatic boundaries of a local campus, but rather one that is strengthened and advanced through a global commitment and perspective. It was an honor to join these students at Virginia Tech, India, and to share in their celebration. We look forward to continuing to create new programs and opportunities for our students abroad and to grow our capacity to serve a global community.”
The business analytics program – spearheaded by Guru Ghosh, vice president for Outreach and International Affairs – was developed by Tarun Sen, emeritus professor retired from the Pamplin College of Business, and Roop Mahajan, retired founding director of Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science and the inaugural Thapar Professor at the Thapar-Virginia Tech Center of Excellence in Emerging Materials. Ghosh said it is Virginia Tech’s first international noncredit certificate.
Program dev elopers had students like Kanniganti in mind – working professionals juggling career demands. During the months-long course, she would hop a half-hour flight from Bangalore to Chennai to spend the weekend studying with fellow students and professors. On alternate weekends, the meetings took place online.
Kanniganti described her coursework as starting with the basics. “It started with, ‘What is data? How is it stored?’ and built from there. We learned how important it is to put our view of the available big-data sets into a business context before applying models. The professors gave us a big-picture understanding of what’s out there and what are the possibilities.”
Her student team’s capstone project employed open-source data related to Amazon’s sales of women’s clothing. The students created and tested models for making relevant buying recommendations to consumers shopping online.
The hard work paid off for Kanniganti, who is collecting data and undertaking field studies for her employer even while the amount of information she must analyze increases exponentially. “We use a lot more modeling and mechanisms to visualize the data better,” she said.
In the U.S., Kanniganti spent two years working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago, overseeing permits for such projects as a $10 billion manufacturing plant in Wisconsin. Comparing the regulatory systems, Kanniganti said India’s pollution-control laws are almost equally stringent. However, implementation and enforcement are more lax. “Proving the pollution-reduction device works is half the battle,” the engineer said. “Convincing industries to invest in cleaning the air is the other half.”