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Illuminating the Unseen: Insights into the African-American experience at Vanderbilt

Posted by on Monday, July 12, 2021 in Completed Research, DS Team Engagement.

image of rosevelt noble in suit, vup logo, vu logoWho are the people who have made Vanderbilt great and made it into the hallmark of excellence and inclusivity that it is today?  In 2007, inspired by notable African-American Vanderbilt alum whose contributions and accomplishments were relatively unknown to current Vanderbilt students, Dr. Rosevelt Noble began the Lost in the Ivy project.  He sought to preserve the African-American experience at Vanderbilt in a book, accompanied by a self-guided, interactive exploratory website. After years of interviews with alum and ongoing interviews with current students, Noble clearly saw recurring themes and emergent latent topical patterns in the interviews. As a trained quantitative researcher, Noble’s interest was piqued and began considering whether computerized methods would reveal similar trends.

The partnership between Noble, Vanderbilt University Press, and the DSI yielded even greater productivity than originally conceived.  The use of traditional natural language processing models revealed similar themes to those identified by Dr. Noble, and delivered noteworthy interview excerpts on each topic.  Deep learning models were also able to accelerate insights into differential student experiences by identifying an interviewee’s involvement in student organizations, educational background and goals, and family.  Armed with new knowledge of the capabilities of data science and possibilities of programming, the team looks forward to robust fusion with new interviews and enhanced authorship of Noble’s new book!

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