Creating Peru’s next generation of data scientists
“Participating in the MIT MicroMasters in Statistics and Data Science, I have discovered new concepts and skills that will allow me to become a data scientist,” says Karen Velasquez. “I am excited to apply what I have learned to challenges that will help NGOs in Peru.”
When Velasquez graduated with a bachelor’s degree in statistical engineering from the Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería in Lima, she was among the top 10% of students in her class. Now, while working for a marketing and intelligence company in Peru, she’s expanding her education as one of the first 25 participants in the Aporta’s Advanced Program in Data Science and Global Skills, which supports a cohort of Peruvians through the MIT MicroMasters Program in Statistics and Data Science.
Training future data scientists
Both Aporta and the MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS) recognize the urgent need to solve global challenges through rigorous and systemic analysis of large and complex data sets, using tools from statistics and computing. These approaches and techniques can bring new insights to societal challenges by detecting fake news, designing real-time demand response for the power grid, or maximizing the efficacy of vaccine intervention to prevent the spread of disease.
This critical need led Aporta and IDSS to join forces to advance education in powerful data science methods and tools to train the next generation of data scientists in Peru. Aporta is leveraging the IDSS MicroMasters for a program of their own: the Advanced Program in Data Science and Global Skills. In partnership with IDSS faculty and staff, Aporta — a subsidiary of Peruvian conglomerate Breca Group — is offering the IDSS MicroMasters Program in Statistics and Data Science to a carefully vetted group of learners, along with additional content to develop skills in cross-cultural communication, teamwork, and leadership.
The IDSS MicroMasters Program offers a rigorous MIT education, available from anywhere in the world. Through four online courses, learners in the MicroMasters program gain in-demand skills in data analysis and machine learning, plus get hands-on experience in applying these skills in challenges centered in economics and development.
To support the Aporta cohort’s progress through the challenging courses of the MicroMasters program, IDSS recruits teaching assistants with areas of expertise specific to each course. Learners interact with each other in physical space while receiving live instruction and feedback from TA’s through online office hours. TA’s use these sessions to identify challenge areas and develop individualized course materials. This personalized and interactive method creates a vibrant class-room experience for the learners, similar to being in a residential program on MIT’s campus.
Custom TA-led sessions have “been beyond helpful to complement the online material,” said David Ascencios, a learner who is already working as a data scientist in Peru.
The cohort has cleared the halfway mark of their journey through the program, and already the impact is significant. “I am very grateful to Aporta and to MIT,” says Johan Veramendi, a systems engineering graduate working in finance. “The program is an excellent opportunity to advance and guide my career into the world of data science.”
Aporta’s educational outreach program began with a gift from Ana Maria Brescia Cafferata, the daughter of Grupo Breca’s late founder. It is a philanthropic endeavor with the goal of empowering Peruvian professionals with learning opportunities to enhance their careers, while providing much-needed talent across different industries and government. Data science is a young and growing field in South America, with untapped potential, an expanding job market, and increasing opportunity for both the private and public sectors.
“This unique program has the vision to make Peru a hub in Latin America for analytics and artificial intelligence,” says Luis Herrera, who is balancing the program with his job as a software engineer and his role as a new father. “I share this vision and I think they are doing a great job. The MIT courses are very challenging and rewarding at the same time.”
The pilot class of 25 learners represent a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. Most have college degrees. Thanks to Brescia Cafferata’s philanthropy, Aporta made a commitment to support all of them with scholarships throughout the program. Going forward, the initiative intends to become self-sustainable, granting as many scholarships as possible.
“Her wish is to dedicate part of her parents’ legacy to the country she’s from, and to give back,” says Luz Fernandez Gandarias, Director of the Institute for Advanced Analytics & Data Science within Aporta. “Her spirit is also behind the design of the program’s academic model, keeping people as the key point around which everything evolves, rather than technology. Ensuring the presence of an ethical conscience, recognizing the impact on people of technology — that humanistic view is something she’s always promoted.”
For IDSS director Munther Dahleh, the collaboration of Aporta and IDSS presents a compelling model of how MIT and IDSS can share their elite faculty and courses with the rest of the world. “IDSS wants to provide a rigorous data science education to the world. We think these skills are critical in the private sector, but also to solving global societal challenges.”
This was the initial vision of Ana Maria Brescia Cafferata, who wants to give back to the country that gave her parents so much. Says Dahleh: “I am delighted to share the hopes and vision of Ana Maria. We have developed a unique program and partnership that aspires to educate students in an emerging field that is fundamentally changing the nature of work. In line with MIT’s mission of creating a better world, our goal is to create a more educated workforce capable of tackling the world’s challenges through enhanced data analysis and insights.”