Salvador earned his BS in Data Science at UMass Dartmouth and will continue his studies at Harvard University.
Salvador Balkus was recently awarded the National Science Foundation Senior Fellowship, becoming the third recipient in the history of UMass Dartmouth Fellows. The scholarship program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported STEM disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral studies at accredited U.S. institutions.
Ahead of his college graduation earlier this month, we had the opportunity to connect with Salvador for a conversation about his experiences as a data science student at the College of Engineering as well as his multitude of achievements.
Salvador, tell us why you chose UMassD.
“The data science program here offered a curriculum that provided useful technical skills needed in today’s workforce. Because of this, I knew I could easily start a career after getting my However, the program was also affordable enough for me to graduate without having to worry about being overwhelmed with student loans.
Finally, I found the university to be the perfect size – big enough to fund a variety of cutting-edge research, but also small enough for professors to give a lot of personal attention to the students in their classes. Overall, I thought the UMass Dartmouth community was a perfect fit for my needs. »
What inspired you to study data science?
“In high school, computer science and math were my main academic strengths – the data science major allowed me to combine these interests. I also knew that data science is a growing field and every organization uses data, the skills I learned would make it very easy for me to get a job after graduating Data Science was the most practical choice of major.
Taking data science courses at UMass Dartmouth only strengthened my love for the field. Studying statistical methods and machine learning helped me discover how integral data science will be in the future, both for uncovering new ideas and creating new tools for automation. And, as a naturally curious person, being in data science has allowed me to explore different fields, examining intellectually challenging research questions in many different fields. With new statistical and computational methodologies released every day, being a data science major means being on the cutting edge of science – which is, for me, an experience like no other.
Salvador is the recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship, becoming UMassD’s third recipient.
Tell us briefly about your research experience.
“I started my first role as a research assistant in my freshman year when I was hired at the UMass Dartmouth Public Policy Center after being recommended by Professor Davis and Professor Kim. Here I saw firsthand how research could benefit my own community. A particularly memorable project was our report, “Charting the Course: A Regional Assessment of the Marine Science and Technology Sector in Southeastern New England “, which has helped UMass Dartmouth advance the development of the South Coast marine economy.
Other projects, such as our research on frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and our analysis of the socioeconomic determinants of health care disparities for Southcoast Health, sparked my interest in health research. Under the guidance of Prof. Fang, I developed a college campus COVID-19 prediction software based on data from UMass Dartmouth. In addition, I have written research papers on federated clustering for health studies, food data harmonization, and wireless communications in self-driving cars.
Salvador with his academic advisor and mentor, Dr. Julia Fang, associate professor in the College of Engineering at UMass Dartmouth.
Which courses or experiences had the greatest impact?
“During my first semester, I took a class with Professor Gary Davis called ‘Exploratory Data Analysis’ which I would honestly consider life changing. Professor Davis gave us the leeway to figure out what methods we should use on our own. The course unleashed my curiosity and reshaped my preconceived notions of what it means to learn. This experience ultimately led me to apply for the best PhD programs in statistics and ultimately brought me to where I am today today.
My academic advisor, Julia Fang was my main research mentor. Without his guidance, I would not have been able to successfully publish articles in top computer science journals. »
And your biggest takeaway?
“Gaining extensive research experience through UMass Dartmouth has provided me with the necessary computational skills and the independent scientific thinking I need to become an expert in my field as a Harvard Biostatistics PhD candidate.”
What are your plans after graduation?
“UMass Dartmouth has provided me with many opportunities to work with professors and research centers on campus and to publish original articles in my field. I know that the undergraduate research training I developed at UMass Dartmouth prepared me well for pursuing graduate studies at Harvard, as well as a career as a professional researcher in biostatistics.
Photographer: Karl Dominey