Purdue Data Mine teaches analytics through real-world projects

Purdue's Data Mine partners with industry to show students valuable data analysis skills

Purdue Data Mine teaches analytics through real-world projects | Aerogram Magazine | Purdue University School of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Purdue Data Mine teaches analytics through real-world projects

Max Low has been living and breathing data science for four years. He’s now a master’s student in Aeronautics and Astronautics, but when he was exploring the housing options available at Purdue, his major hope was to be steeped in knowledge.

As soon as he saw the Data Mine, housed at Hillenbrand Hall, the choice was clear.

“I knew I wanted to find a sense community when starting college, and a learning community provides an excellent networking opportunity right off the bat! It appealed to me as I had heard data science was an up-and-coming field and it could help me stand out,” Low says.

Max Low

AAE student Max Low

The Data Mine is Purdue’s first large-scale learning community for undergraduate and graduate students. What began as a 100-student pilot project in 2018 has now grown to more than 1,700 students across 20 learning communities. AAE students are one of the largest cohorts, but they encourage interdisciplinary collaboration. Students from all majors are welcome, no computational background required.

“The best part is the practical industry experience,” Low says. “Nowhere else did I see the opportunity to just go straight into a research project with top companies in my field where they would teach me the pre-requisite knowledge.”

More than 60 companies have partnered with the Data Mine to teach the data analysis skills they and graduate programs are seeking. Companies provide a mentor to each team. Lauren Dalder, a corporate partners advisor specializing in aerospace, is coordinating 17 of those projects this academic year.

“There's an intangible thing about going to a university, and that’s the knowledge-sharing. That’s something we get by working together. Data Mine builds that into a class schedule,” Dalder says. “Students are being exposed to all these things that are possible with their AAE degree. They register for this class and go work with Howmet, Lockheed Martin, or another corporate partner for the whole year. There's not a job application, they just get the experience.”

Bringing Aerospace Home

Dalder heralds Low as their biggest success story. He mentors younger students and is a warm presence in the Data Mine office. He even earned them a corporate partner in The Aerospace Corporation: “Aerospace was so impressed by Max that when they interviewed him for an internship, that's how they became interested in the Data Mine,” Dalder says.

Mason Wilcox

“The most valuable thing for me in doing a Data Mine project was learning programming while working in a team with a variety of skill sets. This has helped me take different approaches to engineering problems. In my current job position it enabled me to take the necessary time to clearly define a project’s the deliverables, so the focus does not deviate from its target.”

—Mason Wilcox (BSAAE ’23), Quality Engineer at Hexcel Corporation

With that partnership, Low led a project on how to remove noise from spacecraft telemetry data, and merge the telemetry types reported by various spacecraft. He says it helped him gain some intuition about how to analyze telemetry data, and showed him how complex it can be to aggregate spacecraft data.

“This project reinforced my project leadership skills. As the project lead it’s important to have strong communication skills, clear project goals and deliverables, and timely communication with your team and customer,” Low says.

At his internship this summer, that experience was on full display.

“My work at Aerospace incorporated all of my skillsets. A successful engineer is an amalgamation of many different skills. I use my aerospace, data science, and project management skills, which I built at Purdue, daily.”

Data Mine digs deeper

Students collaborating in a room at The Data Mine

The Data Mine is part of Purdue University’s Integrative Data Science Initiative, designed to train students across all majors in data literacy. In 2021, Purdue took the concept state-wide with $10 million in funding from the Lilly Endowment, creating the Indiana Data Mine. It aims to create a statewide ecosystem where students learn data science through hands-on projects with corporate partners.


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