A Conversation with Dani Ayon BA'22

Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

How did you choose to study data science and psychology?

Psych had kind of always been on my radar. I'd taken AP Psych in high school, and so it was something that definitely interested me. I decided I needed something else to work in conjunction.

I took Intro to Python and that was really amazing. The professor was just very good at checking how students were doing. So that was the gateway.

Aside from data science, what class at Willamette has had the biggest impact on you?

I took a Rhetoric and Leadership course with Professor Jeanne Clarke. It was really valuable information. I definitely think that set a precedent for me, because it helped me realize that I could be good at leading.

Learn More About How You Impacted Dani

Data is ubiquitous in our everyday lives, but people don’t always understand how it can be used to address some of society’s challenges, both big and small. Because of your support, students are leveraging data in ways that will open up promising pathways in business, public service, and more.

Just ask data science and psychology double-major Dani Ayon BA’22. Using what she learned at Willamette, Dani and her classmates designed a model to predict animal adoption outcomes based on shelter advertisements.

“We thought, ‘What’s a real-world problem we could solve for our project?’” Dani says. Dani hopes that this research will help animal shelters get more adoptable pets into loving homes.

Crossing Broundaries to Solve Real-World Problems

This commitment to real-world solutions is at the heart of Willamette’s emerging data science program.

“The liberal arts philosophy is about doing interdisciplinary work and teaching our students to be critical thinkers,” Albaugh Assistant Professor of Statistics Heather Kitada Smalley says. “There are endless possibilities for collaborations since every field is collecting data. It is our job to make sense of these data and do so ethically.”

Students in data science learn to not only use data, but to communicate about it in ways that will lead to actionable results.

Dani’s interest in research led her to work on a project with Professor Kitada Smalley examining how language barriers affect the quality of survey data. That project won a national award from the American Association for Public Opinion Research and gave Dani the chance to present at a conference in Chicago.

Dani Ayon poses with her professor at the AAPOR conference.

You Are Empowering Students

These transformative experiences in data science education would not be possible without you.

As she graduates from Willamette, Dani also hopes that future students will be exposed to the kinds of data science skills she learned here.

“Data science is so applicable,” Dani says. “Even if students were just to take an intro class, that would be super beneficial.”

“When I talk to students at the end of the school year and they say, 'This was the most important class I took in undergrad,’ it touches me every time,” Professor Kitada Smalley says. “I want them to feel empowered — and I think we are really doing that for our students.”

Thank you for giving Dani this life-changing gift.

Read more stories about Willamette's exceptional data science students and alumni on our news page.

Dani Ayon BA'22

“Data science is so applicable. Even if students were just to take an intro class, that would be super beneficial.”

Willamette University

Alumni and Parent Engagement

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