Spotlight on CMDA Students Colin and Shannon Cummings

cummins siblings

Reflecting on the Program . . .

What are you majoring in (primary, secondary, minors, concentrations, as applicable)?

SC: I’m majoring in CMDA with a minor in general business. I may add a minor in statistics, but that’s still to be determined.

CC: I’m majoring in the Economics track of CMDA (CMDE) with a minor in Economics.

What, specifically, drew you to enrolling in CMDA? How did your parents react? Were they excited? Did you have to explain to them what CMDA is?

SC: I actually came in as a mathematics major.  At my freshman orientation, representatives from the Academy of Integrated Science came to speak about some of the new majors that would be offered in the coming years.  CMDA caught my attention and I immediately expressed the interest to my parents.

CC: One day, my dad showed me an article about Mark Embree and the new CMDA major.  I wasn’t really sure what ‘big data’ actually was but then my dad explained the concept and it drew my attention.

What about the program has exceeded your expectations?

SC: Definitely the flexibility.  It’s been really nice to have such a wide variety of high-level courses available.  We have the opportunity to take the major in so many directions and learn so many different skills.

CC: How knowledgable the professors are in their respective fields, especially for our in-major classes.

What has surprised you?

CC: The thing that has surprised me most is how relevant data science is in the real world.

SC: I just think it’s crazy how fast CMDA is growing!  At one point, there were only thirteen people in my class.  However,  “big data” and “analytics” have become huge buzzwords.  I think that incoming students are starting to see that the skills are really useful—and cool too!

How do you think CMDA differs from traditional Math, Statistics, and Computer Science classes?

SC: I took a more traditional class route, so I’ve experienced a pretty even mix of standard and integrated classes.  In my opinion, the biggest difference is in the application.  In CMDA courses, I’ve learned about x-rays and facial reconstruction, compared to the basic theory in mathematics, for example.

CC: Even though they seem to go through the lessons much quicker, you really get to see how the material being taught can apply to real life.

Describe an experience you had in the program that stands out (maybe on that is related to academics and one that is more related to ‘student life’).

SC: Although this isn’t a specific experience, I think that since the major is so new and relatively small, having to explain to my friends and family exactly what I’m learning has allowed me to figure it out more for myself.

CC: I just think the idea that we are some of the only people in the country with this specific major is a pretty cool experience in itself.

Have you interned anywhere? If so, where did you work? Can you describe your experience?

SC: I spent last Summer working for the American Institutes for Researach education segment.  They acted as government contractors for different state standardized tests.  My job was to assess the quality of the paper and online test reports for teachers/parents/students and to compute state, district, and school score averages for each subject. 

Can you speak to your experience in CMDA as it has shaped the way in which you approach problem solving (or, more generally, how you see the world)?

CC: Again, I see exactly how much data science is used all around me.  Every commercial I watch or sports statistic I see was computed by someone in our field.

How have you integrated your interests and hobbies into your coursework?

SC: This semester, I will be completing my senior capstone with the Virginia Tech Athletic Department.  My interest in marketing will probably demand some knowledge in web analytics and this project will give me the opportunity to apply it.  In addition, I look forward to helping an organization that has made my life at Virginia Tech so much fun!

What career path do you hope to follow (i.e. graduate school/medical school and then a profession)?

CC: I plan to go straight into the workforce.  However, if the opportunity presents itself, I could potentially attend graduate school (especially if the company pays for it, because I’m broke). 

SC: I also don’t plan to pursue a Master’s degree right away. Ideally, I’d like to use data analytics for marketing research or consulting purposes.  I think it would be really cool to help a company effectively advertise to their target clientele.

Barring any and all obstacles, what impact do you ultimately hope to have on the world?

SC: I really just hope to make a positive difference.

CC: I want to improve the effectiveness of non-profit organizations. More specifically, I want to use predictive analytics to decrease the cost of fundraising and outreach so that excess money is available to the overall mission of the company.

Will CMDA help you get closer to achieving that goal?

CC: I believe so!

SC: I hope so!  That’s the plan, anyway.

Can you speak to the overall impact CMDA has had on you as a student, as a person?

SC: As a student, CMDA has definitely encouraged me to work hard and manage my time.  What we are learning is challenging, but if all goes to plan, the hard work will pay off after graduation.

CC: It’s taught me to really manage my time well because it’s a large work load in what seems like a very short week.  If I want to have any free time to do other activities I must start my assignments as soon as I receive them.

Can you describe how you both gained interest in CMDA? Did that happen simultaneously or separately?

SC:  Enrolling with a major in mathematics, I was exposed to a lot of the same intro-level classes as engineers and, once the major was created, CMDA majors.  Mark Embree was my original advisor, and since he had some part in the creation of CMDA, it was a very smooth transition.

CC: As a senior in high school, after Shannon switched into CMDA, I began to look into it more. For other schools, my plan was to pursue engineering.  But as I started to understand how CMDA majors could impact the real world, it increased my desire to explore this new major.

Do you two have a history of sharing the same interests (in academics, sports, hobbies, etc.)?

CC: We’ve never really shared any of the same hobbies.  I’ve always been more interested in sports.

SC: That’s true.  While we never really had the same friend groups or hobbies, we have had similar academic interests (more mathematically inclined and less language/arts).

Please describe what it is like to pursue the same degree as siblings.

CC: I like it a lot because I can always ask questions and get insight on which classes I should take in the future.

SC: We’ve taken a couple of classes together which was nice, but aside from the little bits of advice I give Colin from time to time, I wouldn’t say that it’s too different from any normal sibling relationship.

Lastly, and this can be related to CMDA or totally unrelated, describe a favorite Hokie memory.

CC: Last year, Shannon and I made a trip down to Blacksburg for a basketball game.  Even though I’ve always been a huge college basketball fan, the atmosphere within Cassell Coliseum made me fall in love with the school even more.  (Plus, we beat Duke).

SC: I’ve been on Virginia Tech Relay For Life’s marketing committee every year, and one of my favorite memories was at my first Relay event.  When the executive comittee went on stage and held up a giant banner with the amount of money that we had raised (over half a million dollars), I was amazed at how big an effect one student body can have.