Features, Profiles, Science

New Data Science building becomes Spark!’s new home

The Center for Data and Computing Sciences under construction
The Boston University Computing and Data Science Building. Spark! will expand its data driven learning lab when it is relocated to the Center for Computing & Data Sciences. BAYLE VINES/DFP FILE

Boston University’s experiential learning lab for student-led, data driven projects — called Spark! — is moving into the second floor of the brand new Center for Computing & Data Sciences building. Members of Spark! leadership say this will allow the program to expand its reach and opportunities for students.

Student members of the organization hope to make the new Spark! office a relaxing and helpful area for the computer science community at BU, said Spark! Project Manager Marina Barros, a senior in the Questrom School of Business.

“We wanted the space to be a welcoming space, like the layout itself,” she said. Barros emphasized the area’s collaborative energy and open work area “We want it to be like a wellness center.”

From deciding on art pieces, graphics and technology, the layout design of the new office has been a joint effort with Spark!’s student leaders, Barros said.

“Everything that the ambassadors have put together for the new space has just been in an effort to try and help the CS community from what we’ve seen that their struggles are,” Barros said.

Spark! Ambassador Lika Nnadi, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she is looking forward to having a larger space. Spark!’s current location is currently a “tiny room” in the Math & Computer Science building, she said.

“Moving into a bigger space I think is going to give us more room to be able to interact with people and people interact with us,” Nnadi said.

Langdon White, a Computing and Data Sciences clinical assistant professor and Spark! technical director, said Spark! aims to provide “tech-adjacent” students with opportunities to get real-world experience in their chosen fields. And everyone, from political science to journalism majors, he said, is “tech-adjacent.”

“These days, if you’re not doing data science along with whatever you do, you’re not going to do well,” White said.

Spark! gives students the opportunity to work on projects for third-party organizations like nonprofits or local businesses, he said.

“I see it kind of like a startup,” White said. “I find that kind of scenario really interesting and fun.”

Spark! also provides workshops, guest lectures, internships and a class designed to allow students to either pitch their own idea for a project or to choose another student’s project to work on, he said.

Nnadi said she is taking a fellowship course in Spark! which allows students to collaborate with others on projects of their own design.

White said this type of offering is unique because it allows students to choose what projects they work on.

“Normally you just get assigned to a project, whatever it is, and you just like it or lump it, basically,” White said.

Alex Lavaee, a freshman in the Computing and Data Science program, said Spark! is a “hub of interdisciplinary action” available to students with or without technical expertise.

“People from all different backgrounds, no matter if they’re in computer science, or data science or not, can collaborate in the field,” Lavaee said. “I think it’s inclusive in that way.”

Barros said the new space is not just exclusive to tech-focused students either.

“It’s open to anyone who’s interested in tech and who wants to know more about Spark!,” Barros said. “Anyone is welcome to come in and use the space to do homework… make friends and hang out with us.”


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