Tanner Spicer, a junior majoring in computational modeling and data analytics and computer science, dives into complicated datasets as part of his position with the University Libraries DataBridge student group. He loves to organize, make sense of complex patterns in data, and use his skills to benefit research projects across Virginia Tech. 

“I’m pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. I’m a pretty quiet kid. What we do in DataBridge is exciting to me because of what it means to the outside world and the impact on it,” said Spicer. “I’m working on important projects while developing my data science and presentation skills.”

The University Libraries at Virginia Tech’s DataBridge program provides hands-on training for undergraduate students to be successful in data analysis and visualization. It’s an undergraduate research experience, led by the University Libraries’ Anne M. Brown and managed by Jonathan Briganti, that gives students interested in working with data a chance to increase knowledge and hone skills by collaborating with graduate students and faculty across campus with computationally intensive research projects.

DataBridge students are first trained in data-logic and analysis skills and then paired with a Virginia Tech client and project. The students act as consultants, project managers, problem-solvers, analysts, programmers, cleaners, collectors, and visualizers of data. 

Spicer has worked on such projects as creating a tool for the general public to analyze historical Chicago election data and create their own visualizations of what they find interesting in the data. He said this tool makes the election data more approachable and accessible for everyone by allowing them to create their own data visualizations from the data sets, in addition to letting us understand more about Chicago voting trends and urban politics.

Brown said that watching students like Spicer find their passion and talent through their work with DataBridge is what the program is about — to help develop students so they are ready to be successful data scientists. 

“He has pushed his disciplinary boundaries and uses his data science skillset to work on research projects from the fields of computational chemistry to urban politics,” said Brown. “Tanner is independent but has embraced working in a team and with partners from all over campus. 

Spicer admits he’s an introvert. That doesn’t stop him from successfully presenting his work at conferences and making data science approachable for his clients.

“I’ve learned to enjoy presentations,” said Spicer. “I get nervous, but I am very confident about my data science and methods.”

“It has been great to watch him develop into a team leader in the group and excel at presenting his work at on-campus research symposiums and contributing to group meetings with other students and our collaborators,” said Brown. “DataBridge enhances these students’ confidence and experience while providing an important service to our research university.”