What does the surface of a desk and the surface of a beach ball or bagel have in common? The answer is, if you zoom in close enough on each item, they all look flat. Of course, we all know…
iSchool Student Helps Bring Data to Life in Visuals for IVMF
Aiyappa Uthaiah G’18, a master’s student in the School of Information Studies (iSchool), is helping administrators at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) better understand a crucial tool in interpreting trends related to veterans’ programs and services.
Uthaiah works with the Veterans Strategic Analysis and Research Tool (V-START), a data visualization application that creates easy-to-read visuals of various veteran demographic, education, socioeconomic and unemployment public data. The bar graphs, charts, maps and dashboards that are generated through V-START help users quickly analyze and explore the data to undercover trends and inform decisions on veteran’s affairs.
The second-year master’s student says the challenge is in understanding the needs of those who want to use the data. “Then, in terms of the data, it’s all about collecting the data, cleaning the data and trying to understand what meaningful questions we can answer with the data that we have,” he says.
Transitioning service members, veterans and military families can use V-START to make more informed choices in their post-service life. The tool can also be useful to corporations, foundations, nonprofits and government agencies to inform decisions related to initiatives that will positively influence veterans and their families.
V-START, developed through IVMF in collaboration with consulting firm Deloitte, was built using Tableau, a software program.
“V-START, in essence, provides life and usability to data that might otherwise be hard to use,” says Bonnie Chapman, director of evaluation and innovation at IVMF and Uthaiah’s supervisor.
Chapman notes Uthaiah has made significant contributions to the development and maintenance of V-START. “Along with being responsible for updating and incorporating public data into the tool, Aiyappa also designs and develops additional visualizations,” Chapman says. “Additionally, as more people become aware of the tool—and more feedback is given—we are able to better understand how to use the tool.”
His essential work has helped IVMF create a service for everyone. “V-START can help quickly answer a variety of ‘what if’ scenarios by marshaling the sea of available data to enable more informed decisions on veterans and their families,” Chapman says. “Without Aiyappa, the V-START tool would not be supported, sustained or enhanced.”
Uthaiah, who is pursuing a certificate of advanced studies in data science, joined IVMF in February after seeing a position posted on the iSchool listserv for a Tableau developer at the institute. “I immediately applied for the position and now I am working here in the capacity of a data/business intelligence analyst,” says Uthaiah, who earned a bachelor’s degree in technology and computer science and M.B.A. in his home country of India.
Along with his work on V-START, he also assists with other programs at IVMF to help with data analysis, more recently with an analytical processing tool, and works on maintaining databases.
Managing student teams
“There are a range of activities that I work on—starting from interacting with people who run the different programs to understanding their visual reporting needs and designing and developing functional dashboards that help interpret data,” he says. “I am also learning to manage student teams who work here at IVMF and also teams who work on specific projects as part of their curriculum.”
The work of analyzing data and generating visuals to represent them drives Uthaiah’s interest. “Investigating, exploring and digging deeper into the data and finding patterns and how to leverage the knowledge gained is what fascinates me,” he says. “I also enjoy working on building visualizations, which brings out the creative side of me. Plus we work on so many technologies and the exposure that one gets from working here is amazing.”
He also appreciates the IVMF team that mentors him and the work that they do. “I love brainstorming and the collaboration sessions with IVMF members, and I learn every day from all the knowledge that they have. It is great to work with people who care about IVMF and take pride in the work that they do,” says Uthaiah, who also gets to interact with many different students at IVMF. “My manager, Bonnie Chapman, has been a great support and guidance to me and my work here at IVMF.”
Chapman notes his impressive data technology skills and his skills as a mentor and leader. “Aiyappa takes initiative, leads other students, works effectively with staff and is flexible to the ever-changing environment of IVMF,” she says. “On top of all this, Aiyappa is wonderful to work with.”
After graduation, he hopes to become an analyst. “The work that I do at IVMF is giving me the exposure that I need to achieve this,” he says. “My motivation is my interest in working with data from real-world situations and to uncover meaningful insights from them.”