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District attorney’s office hires graduate as first data science role

by Jennifer Johnson,

Nick Kachanyuk

The Marion County District Attorney’s Office prioritizes transparency. Nick Kachanyuk MS ’21 is opening their data to the public. 

As the office’s first data specialist, Kachanyuk is currently creating a series of interactive online dashboards that present data such as crime statistics, offender demographics and cases filed to keep residents updated. But some of the information he’s examining will go even further — it will help the medical examiner’s office determine correlations between the cause and timing of county deaths. 

A recent increase in drug overdoses and suicides led law enforcement to investigate the frequency with which it occurs, and if they can determine certain months or seasons when rates are higher, they can allocate more resources during those times and possibly prevent deaths, Kachanyuk said. 

Other information, like the most common times of the year for misdemeanors, will also be available on the district attorney’s website. “There will be a lot of interesting things that can be found in terms of crime patterns, if they exist,” he said. 

Creating dashboards was a natural step for Kachanyuk, whose first semester alone at Willamette University taught him “everything there is to know” about data visualization and interactive web application R-Shiny, he said. 

The M.S. in Data Science program also covered specialized subfields, such as natural language and image processing, and he appreciated how each topic was approached from an applied point of view. In class, he was able to complete projects for real companies and customers, he said. 

“It shows how well-connected and aware the professors are when it comes to applying theory to practice,” he said. 

In fact, they led him to his current job. Kachanyuk heard about the data science opening from a professor, graduated last August and started working for the DA’s office in November. 

“I think they really liked what I learned in the program,” he said. “They were looking for a person that understood stats, could make visualizations and also understood how to make use of machine learning and predictions.” 

Kachanyuk didn’t set out to become a data scientist. For many years, he enjoyed web design, but mostly as a hobby. Updating his high school website for a final project gave him satisfaction (“I was so happy I was able to create something that others could see,” he said), and led to his pursuit of some minor professional work later. But all along he’d planned to become a doctor, and after he’d earned his biology degree at Western Oregon University — and taken a statistics class — he decided to abandon medical school for a career in data science. 

For the DA’s office, he’s currently cleaning data and integrating dashboards into the website. But more information of public interest is emerging, from the most common cause of accidental deaths in recent years to a resurgence of fentanyl deaths, all of which Kachanyuk will help translate into a clearer picture of crime and mortality in the county. 

“Data science is as much about science as it is about people,” he said. “At the end of the day, they have to understand the work, and it all depends on how you present that information to them.” 

About Computing & Data Science

The School of Computing and Data Science prepares students for their future careers. Willamette offers undergraduate, graduate, accelerated and certificate programs at both Salem and Portland campuses where students are taught by faculty who are leaders in their fields. The residential undergraduate program is full time, while the graduate program is designed for working professionals and recent college graduates looking for a head start on their career.

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