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This May, UIC student Salvador Tranquilino–Ramos graduated with a bachelor’s degree in data science and is poised to begin UIUC’s Online Master of Computer Science in Data Science degree while also starting a full time position with the online reservation platform Tock.  In an article from UIC’s computer science department, Tranquilino–Ramos credits part of his success to his experiences with the University of Chicago’s Data Science Institute as part of the Data Science Social Impact Summer Program.

Tranquilino–Ramos worked with DSI software engineer Launa Greer on a project for WoMin, a grantee of the 11th Hour Project. “Development projects often have negative externalities like deforestation, air pollution, or water contamination.  These costs are not borne by the project’s managers and financial lenders, but indirectly by surrounding communities, who suffer adverse health outcomes and damaged agricultural economies in the absence of stronger regulation,” explained Greer. “In 2022, my DSI Summer Lab team worked with the South African-based nonprofit WoMin, which advocates for development project reform, to investigate the extent to which certain types of development sites, like coal mines, could be considered pollution sources.”

At the end of the program, Tranquilino–Ramos asked to continue working on the project through an independent study course and explore machine learning techniques to answer the team’s research question. His course advisor and Greer scoped the project to a related and well-studied, real-world problem that could be accomplished within a single academic semester: predicting the location of wildfires, which are also more common with deforestation. They chose to focus on one country, Uganda, whose government was actively debating how to allocate resources to address a recent increase in wildfires. Over the course of the academic term, Tranquilino–Ramos wrote a data pipeline to fetch fire locations predicted by NASA satellite imagery, clean and normalize those datasets, and then train a random forest regression model to predict the number of fires that would occur in a Ugandan county on a given day based on N previous days of data.

Greer stated that it was a pleasure to watch Tranquilino–Ramos pick up new skills in Python scripting, version control,  API consumption, and the general data science lifecycle. “It’s so rewarding to see students then transfer those skills to the workplace or catch a spark that leads them to apply for graduate school,” said Greer. “I’m excited to see what he does next!”

Here’s an except from UIC’s story:

After a college career filled with internships, undergraduate research, and student teaching – all while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average–Salvador Tranquilino – Ramos graduated in May from UIC with a bachelor’s degree in data science.

After his first year at UIC, Tranquilino-Ramos interned at the University of Chicago’s Data Science Institute as a research assistant intern. He worked with a Uganda-based nonprofit organization on a data science project, creating a database and website to track their work more effectively, replacing their previous system of Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. When his internship ended, Tranquilino-Ramos wanted to continue his work with the group, so he enrolled in CS 398, Undergraduate Design/Research, and continued his work with Clinical Associate Professor Gonzalo Bello and the University of Chicago team.

“We extended the project into not only storing information, but created a machine-learning algorithm that was able to predict fires in Uganda,” Tranquilino-Ramos said.

He went on to work with Assistant Professor Stavros Sintos on geometrical computational programs. Their aim was to improve Google search algorithms by making them fair, diverse, and random.

This summer, Tranquilino-Ramos will join the online reservation platform Tock, where he interned last summer as a software engineer with the front-of-house team, creating tools for restaurant owners and hosts. He received a return offer last August.

Tranquilino-Ramos has a piece of advice for incoming students:

“Talk to your professors; they are the first people you can contact if you’re looking for an opportunity,” Tranquilino-Ramos said. “If I hadn’t expressed my interest in data science to Professor Bello, I wouldn’t have obtained that first University of Chicago internship.”


Read the full story, written by Andrea Poet, on the UIC Computer Science Department Website.