Today we speak to Jon Witkowski of Ocean County, N.J. on his internship with Cooper University Healthcare. Jon is a Rowan Global student pursuing a master’s degree in Data Science through Rowan’s accelerated CADP 4+1 program. He recently graduated with degrees in Computer Science and Mathematics. While an undergraduate student, Jon was a member of Rowan’s chapter of the Upsilon Pi Epsilon honor society and worked as a peer tutor.
Can you tell us more about data science?
Data science is an interdisciplinary field between computer science and statistics, leveraging technology and utilizing computer science and high-level math to transform data and draw a useful output for informed, analytical decision making.
What is your day-to-day like at your internship with Cooper University Healthcare?
The first project I was assigned was to make a dashboard for different health systems’ market shares in the general South Jersey region over the past four years. Other departments source the data and hand it to me, and basically, I built a dashboard to whatever their specifications are.
I’ll either be doing something like preparing the data and wrangling it to get it in a state that I want for the databases, or I’ll be trying to figure out how to format my dashboards and what kind of layout to do. Maybe I’ll be thinking about what types of different visualizations I can use. One of the things that we use are interactive, graphical filters. So instead of just having a drop down for selecting things, maybe you format your filter as a bar chart with the labels on it, so you can just click it, and it filters by that.
Getting the data and the results is the easy part. It’s putting it in a way that you can show as much as you can, without it being crowded — that’s really the hard part.
The best part was being able to experiment with new visualizations. I got hands-on experience in the software I had only gone over in class last semester.
One of the more interesting things I’ve done was writing complex table queries that made the data look good, show the visualizations I wanted, and are efficient. An example of that: One of my proudest achievements is we have a map, and it’s colored by zip code. The intensity of the color represents Cooper’s market share in that region. So how many of the inpatient discharges in that region were Cooper’s and a lower volume or market share will be a yellow color, and it’ll get darker red for the higher color. Figuring that out was really fun to try to do.
How did you discover your internship?
It’s very hard to get an internship in the tech field as a college student. You would think it’s easy because it’s such a necessary field. I read online that the unemployment rate in the tech field like computer science and programming is less than 2%, so you’d imagine that many people are getting jobs. I applied for anything I could find, and I happened to get this one.
It actually worked out in the end. The work I do at Cooper is similar to work I did in a class I took last semester, which just happened to turn out to be important to me if I am working in that field, but it really is my favorite class that I ever took at Rowan called Visual Analytics. [The course] involves data visualization and analytics. You’re basically performing analysis on your data and coming out with any results you’re looking for. It’s all about the visualization of set results in an effective way. I really loved it.
Will your internship help you inside and outside of your master’s program?
I think so. The internship also focused on the back end of data visualization for you actually get the data. Before you have the data the way you want it for the visualizations, you have to prepare it and model it. My next project is for social determinants of health. I’m on the data modeling part of that. That is definitely not something I have a ton of experience in, so it’s going to be massively valuable during my career.
What advice would you offer to your peers?
To discover an internship, think about what keywords you should put in a job search. Look at LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster Jobs, Zip Recruiter, or anything. Just apply for as many internships as you can, because the more you apply, the more options you have. It might seem really annoying and stressful to be applying for hundreds of internships, but that just gives you more options to choose what you actually want. It will give you a better chance of finding something you like in the long run.
If you don’t know what you want to do in any degree program, I would look at the different course descriptions for the different courses in that major and the topics of the different concentrations. Also, I didn’t get to use LinkedIn Learning until my fifth semester here, but I would absolutely use LinkedIn Learning. If I could just go back to my freshman year, I would have used LinkedIn learning. I would have looked up all the computer science concentrations and started doing independent learning through that. It’s a resource that Rowan provides with countless hours of coursework. It’s incredibly useful. I think everyone should use it, and it’s definitely something that Rowan doesn’t emphasize enough.
How did you choose your majors in Computer Science and Mathematics?
I guess I got lucky with computer science because it’s what I always knew I wanted to do. I can remember as far back as like seven or eight in elementary school. When I was a kid, I wanted to do stuff with computers. Then, I learned what programming was. I just knew that’s what was in store for me.
Math was always my best subject in school. I initially had it as a minor coming in because the computer science degree is most of the math minor. It’s two extra classes to get the minor. Then, I found out there was another minor in the math department called Applied Math. That was three more classes, so I figured, “Why not tack that on?” Then, I found out that the math department had the Bachelor of Arts, which was maybe three or four more classes to tack on. So I figured, “Why not?”
Can you tell us about any faculty who have particularly impacted your college career?
Three professors who stand out most for me are Dr. H. [Dr. Gabriela Hristescu] and Professor [Jack] Myers from the computer science department and Dr. [Charalampos] Papachristou from the math department. I had three different classes with Dr. H, and I was also a learning assistant in one of her classes last semester. She was also one professor in charge of the Computer Science Honor Society, Upsilon Pi Epsilon, which I was a member of for three semesters, and was also on the e-board for. Dr. H has been a very huge part of my entire college career. She wrote me a recommendation for the master’s program.
I had Professor Myers for two classes, and I’m taking another class of his this upcoming fall. He is one of the best people I know. I took his database class back in the spring of 2020. Without that class, I wouldn’t be in data science. I just absolutely loved it. I’ve had a couple of classes in college that I would consider to be my favorites. Database was my first favorite class. I told him I loved the class, and he recommended data science to me. So I looked into it, and I saw that it aligned with what I wanted to do. He also wrote me a recommendation for the data science master’s program. Without either of these professors, I wouldn’t be in the field.
Dr. Papachristou (or Babis for short) is a statistics professor whom I’ve taken three classes with. It was the first stat class with him that made me decide to concentrate my math degree in statistics, which was instrumental in me choosing to go into data science.
What are your career goals or outcomes after having obtained the 4+1 degree?
My department at Cooper was pleased with my work this summer and has asked me to continue working with them part-time during the semester. I was also planning on being an adjunct professor in the computer science department. I think it’d be a great way to give back to the people who helped me get where I am.
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