May 2017

Commencement to Celebrate Graduates

by David Gulliver

On May 26, New College will celebrate its 51st Commencement ceremony, but it also will mark a first – the graduation of the College’s first master’s degree students, from the new data science program.

Appropriately, the commencement speaker is the noted composer and scholar, George E. Lewis, known for his work in electronic and computer-based music, documented on more than 140 recordings.

Lewis, the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University, is the recipient of a 2002 MacArthur Fellowship, commonly called the “Genius Grant,” and his book A Power Stronger Than Itself received the American Book Award.

He will receive a the degree of doctor of humane letters, honoris causa, from New College. And as the sun sets over Sarasota Bay, an expected 190 Novo Collegians will receive their degrees in the traditional ceremony on the College’s Bayfront.

Some, like Maggie Swerdloff and Nikolas Wojtalewicz, will be headed off to top graduate programs (biomedical engineering at Northwestern, and mathematics at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, respectively). Others, like Fulbright winner Allya Yourish, are headed abroad – in her case, to Malaysia.

All eight of the data science graduates are headed to jobs, several with the companies for which they interned during the program. Alumni Philip Pope and Erin Craig both returned to New College for the program.

Pope was already working as a data scientist in Washington, D.C. “I knew how rapidly the field was changing, and that if I were to have any hope of survival, I would need to build a solid foundation in data science,” he said. “So I came back to New College to do just that.”

Craig was working at Wolfram Research when she decided to return, looking for “an opportunity to challenge myself,” she said.

Which she did, working with real-world data sets from fields including health care and IT security, and in roles from data engineering to visualization to modeling. She also organized the regional affiliate of the nationwide Women in Data Science conference in February.

“I fell in love with data science,“ she said. “And on the way, I learned about myself ... This experience showed me what I enjoy most, and it gave me opportunities to grow both as a data scientist and as an individual.”

Craig praised the Data Science faculty for their willingness to work outside of class with the students, and Pope cited the close working relationships with his fellow students and the chance to pursue his own ideas.

One message he would share for all students: “I would encourage future students to think critically for themselves and back their claims up with data. This, in my view, is the essential task of the data scientist.”

Craig is still deciding between job offers, while Pope has already accepted a position as a machine learning engineer with Clarifai, a New York City artificial intelligence company specializing in deep learning.

“My duties include data engineering and researching human-based computation,” he said. “I am excited to be working on the cutting edge of computer vision.”

Commencement will also include recognition for Professor of Biology Al Beulig, who is retiring after 42 years at New College. The College’s jazz band, the New Cats, will perform, and the student speaker will be (TBA late Friday or Monday).

Commencement is set for Friday, May 26, beginning at 7 p.m. on the College’s Bayfront. See more about the schedule of events here.

A reception, sponsored by the New College Student Alliance, will follow on the Bayfront immediately after the ceremony.

© 2015 New College of Florida