APSU math major excels in National Science Foundation research program

Clarksville, TN (07/24/2023) — CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - Austin Peay State University (APSU) student Christine Jator, a junior mathematics major, has spent her summer researching how evictions impact vulnerable populations through a nationally recognized data science program in Dallas, Texas.

The National Science Foundation's Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Southern Methodist University (SMU) is well-known for its data science program, making it a prime destination for passionate students. Very few are accepted into the program, but Jator was admitted for the summer.

REU provides the students with professional data science experience as they conduct research. Students are assigned a team with an SMU faculty member guiding their research.

"It's been really fun learning with other like-minded people who are extremely intelligent," Jator said. "Collaborating with them and hearing different ideas and perspectives has been really good."

Jator said she was accepted into the program in the spring and had been looking forward to participating ever since.

"I was on my lunch break at work when I found out [that I got accepted]," Jator said. "I was so happy. I was excited that I was going to be in Dallas the whole summer."

The program runs from June 5 through July 28. Participating students live on campus and spend their time learning to research topics, collect data and use it to offer insights into societal issues. Jator and her group are specifically looking into evictions and how they affect surrounding neighborhoods.

"We are in our research phase now," she said." In this phase, we work with eviction data and identify how evictions impact vulnerable populations in Dallas counties. My team and I are working in groups of three, and we're looking at the census data and identifying how evictions affect populations."

Throughout her time at SMU, Jator is learning what being a professional in data science includes. She said the program has given her new insights into the field.

"It's given me a lot of experience," Jator said. "I've seen the day-to-day of a researcher. It will also help me craft a good research question because I didn't realize how difficult it was to form one. You want to make sure that your data can answer [a research] question and that it's interesting enough to where people would actually want to read your research."

The students participating in the REU are researching real questions that can help improve lives. For Jator and her team, that means using census information to identify trends and other observations in the Dallas area.

"We're looking at how [evictions] impact vulnerable populations financially," Jator said. "Later on, we will work with children and see how evictions impact them. As well as other demographics like low-income and minority populations, maybe single parents."

Information gathered through data science can improve the lives of people worldwide. Jator hopes that she and future generations of data scientists can continue analyzing trends and patterns to save lives.

"Data is useful," she said." What conclusions can you draw from that data? How can you analyze it to predict someone's health? Or how can you use that data to show trends and patterns? For example, to help our eviction case, how can we show different trends and patterns? Or how can we show that there's a disparity and inequality in the justice system? You can use it in a lot of ways. And I think one of those ways is to answer questions or help people see patterns."

Jator will continue working with her research team until late July before returning to APSU this fall. She hopes to bring the experience that she has gained back to campus and use it to excel in her studies and future career.

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APSU junior mathematics major Christine Jator with other student researchers at Southern Methodist University.