University of San Francisco sign

SLU + SFU = 4+1 in Data Science

Recent Graduate Paves Way for Partnership with University of San Francisco

Ryan Deuel

Being tucked away in Northern New York, St. Lawrence’s location has prompted the University to reach out to alumni in order to create new programs in urban centers across the country; partner with other institutions with large graduate schools to develop advanced-degree program agreements; and to help link St. Lawrence students to the “outside” world.

In this case, it was the big city that came calling. And, it was a recent Laurentian graduate who served as the operator, connecting St. Lawrence with the University of San Francisco to create a new 4+1 program in data science.

Taylor Pellerin ’17 had grown up in the North Country and had come to St. Lawrence in 2013, intending to enroll in the 3+2 program in mechanical engineering and to play football.

“I got injured playing football in my first year and stayed off the field after that,” Pellerin recalls. “Later on, I got involved with the club rugby team, which I found incredibly valuable. Besides the lifelong friendships, it fostered a great deal of teamwork; and in my senior year, I was a player-coach, leading a team of my peers.”

Even in high school, Pellerin was strong in math, but he couldn’t see himself working in traditional math careers, such as an accountant or an actuary. He began taking physics and computer science courses in his first two semesters, and during his last three years, he worked in the University’s Peterson Quantitative Resource Center (PQRC).

“By the time I was a junior, I wasn’t as certain about my interest in the 3+2 engineering program anymore and found myself leaning more toward computer science courses,” Pellerin says. “I enjoyed taking courses and hanging out with (Associate Professor of Computer Science) Lisa Torrey, (Charles A. Dana Professor of Computer Science) Ed Harcourt, and (Assistant Professor of Computer Science) Choong-Soo Lee. I began to think, ‘Maybe a software engineering track would be more appropriate for me.’”

Pellerin has also developed a close working relationship with Charles A. Dana Professor of Statistics and Director of the PQRC Michael E. Schuckers while working in the QRC. “That’s where I overheard him talking one day of my junior year about sports statistics,” says Pellerin, “and I thought to myself, ‘Now there’s something I could get behind.’” The following summer he did just that in the form of a University fellowship.

Pellerin graduated in 2017 with his Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and computer science, and he began applying to graduate programs in statistics and data science, including one at the University of San Francisco.

“I enjoyed meeting with the faculty there, and my family supported my move to the West Coast,” he says. “The program was quick and industry-oriented, and I received my master’s degree in data science in 2018.”

Today, Pellerin is still living in San Francisco and is working as a data scientist for Uber Eats. His team is focused on the delivery experience and what it’s like from the user’s perspective. They utilize machine learning, and statistical analysis, and devise various marketplace experiments to try to understand the customer’s behavior.

Taylor Pellerin '17 with his Uber Eats colleagues.

Taylor Pellerin '17 with his Uber Eats colleagues.

“The brunt of the work,” Pellerin explains, “is around predictive modeling, experimentation, and taking a deep dive into the data in order to try to answer questions like ‘why didn’t this feature work for this type of person?’ in order to help our designers and engineers build a better product.”

Visiting USF after his graduation, Pellerin met up with the director of the program, David Uminsky, who serendipitously had a connection to St. Lawrence through Rutherford Professor of Mathematics and Chair of the Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics Daniel Look. The two had coincidently attended graduate school together and had jointly co-authored one of their most successful peer-reviewed papers.

During their meeting, Uminsky pitched the idea to Pellerin about creating an agreement in data science between the University of San Francisco and St. Lawrence.

“I was the second or third St. Lawrence student who had successfully gone through USF’s program,” Pellerin recalls. Consensus was forming around the mutual benefits for both USF and St. Lawrence, and Pellerin took the idea and pitched it to Schuckers in the fall of 2018.

The result was a new agreement between the two universities, creating a 4+1 program that allows students to receive their bachelor’s degree from St. Lawrence and their Master of Science degree in data science from USF.

“USF actually came to us,” Look says. “It was a testament to the strength of St. Lawrence’s Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics.”

Schuckers added: “There was a high level of confidence on both sides between USF and St. Lawrence. After talking to Taylor and getting his feedback, we were ready to create this partnership.”

Data science and analytics is a field that combines elements of mathematics, economics, computer science, and statistics. And due to contemporary trends in artificial intelligence and big data, it’s a field that is growing rapidly. “There’s a great demand for people with the ability and know-how to manipulate and combine data,” Schuckers says. “Ultimately, this skill set helps organizations to confidently make decisions.”

His assertions are backed up with data: According to LinkedIn, the fastest growing job in America is data science, with a growth rate 6.5 times greater than other professions since 2012. IBM, meanwhile, expects demand for data scientists will jump another 28 percent by 2020.

In order to apply to the 4+1 with USF, St. Lawrence students will have to have taken courses in mathematics, statistics, and computer science as well as be in solid academic standing; have a recommendation by a math, computer science, or statistics faculty member; and pass an interview with USF.

“We were given a lot of leniency in how to structure the program, but we decided to ratchet it up a bit,” Look says. “Statistics and computer science bring together the programming and data analysis while the rigor of the mathematics courses provides a solid foundation for quantitative analysis.” 

Combined, the courses required for entry into the 4+1 culminate in learning both the functional work combined with theoretical understandings. “Our requirements,” Schuckers says, “guarantee that students will have a depth and understanding of mathematics that is more sophisticated than just being based in methods.”

“My SLU coursework was fantastic and provided me with a ‘first principles’ framework of thinking about how we take up a problem and strip it down to its most basic components before coming up with solutions,” Pellerin explains when articulating why St. Lawrence students have the advantage. “In addition, being on the rugby team fostered teamwork, and working in the PQRC taught me how to convey quantitative ideas to people who may not think quantitatively.”

Pellerin believes—like many Laurentians—that a liberal arts education forces one out of one’s own comfort zone and helps creates a well-rounded individual.

“I am the youngest person on my team, but I have been able to lead a discussion with industry veterans with a confidence that came from attending St. Lawrence,” he says. “Juggling club sports, my leadership role on the team, my work experience with the PQRC, and being a successful student…that’s what hiring managers are looking for and what they value.”