Prather Presents a Contributed Talk on Machine Learning at Big Data Ignite Conference 2018

10-08-2018


by Kristina Garvelink (M.S. ’15)

In mid-September, Collin Prather (B.S. ’19) presented a breakout session at Big Data Ignite Conference 2018, an annual three-day conference dedicated to the discussion of relevant data science topics such as cloud computing and data management. His contributed talk, entitled "Machine Learning from Scratch," offered attendees an introduction to machine learning algorithms and their practical applications. Other conference speakers included Hilary Parker, data scientist for Stitch Fix; Kevin Oleniczak, solutions architect for Amazon Web Services; and David Spezia, strategic solutions architect for Tableau Software.

"I find data science fascinating as it provides an avenue to apply cutting-edge academic theories to solve problems in a wide array of industries," Prather said.

Prather's interest in the analysis of big data sets gained traction in 2017. During a summer internship with the global nonprofit Samaritan's Purse, he leveraged his knowledge of mathematics to analyze more than 10,000 surveys submitted by volunteers who had served in the nonprofit's Operation Christmas Child processing centers.

"My internship with Samaritan's Purse gave me professional maturity and confidence in my capacity to have a successful career," Prather said. "It's difficult to overstate how transformational it can be for a college student to feel that they not only get to participate in their internship but also contribute value to their team."

Erica Spence, field support manager for Operation Christmas Child of Samaritan's Purse, served as Prather's internship supervisor. She cited the sustained impact of Prather's data analysis work and its actionable outcomes for her team and Operation Christmas Child's stateside volunteers.

"Collin's work in analyzing thousands of volunteer surveys from Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child volunteers led him to a series of recommendations and the creation of resources that have vastly improved the volunteer experience in each of our processing centers around the country. This improved experience deepens the involvement of our volunteers in the ministry and, as a result, we are able to partner with more churches and reach more children with the good news of the Gospel."

As Prather prepares to conclude his bachelor's degree in the spring, he indicated how his faith commitment informs his study of mathematics and, in return, his study of mathematics and data sets enriches his understanding of God.

"The study of math illuminates the structure that God has set into motion on earth," Prather stated. "To devote myself to learning math to the very best of my ability is to steward my mind and circumstances the Lord has placed me in to the best of my ability, bringing Him glory."