Cohort 7 Student Spotlight: Meet Nina

Nina Hua joined the MSDS program after obtaining a BS in Public Health from UT Austin. Continue reading to learn more about her background, practicum placement, and how she spends her time in San Francisco!

What were you doing before joining the MSDS program?

I graduated this past May from the University of Texas at Austin with a BS in Public Health and a minor in Computer Science. While there, I was a research assistant and mentor at the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI), an organization that equipped first-year students with skills to work in advanced research labs on campus. My projects were primarily focused on next-generation DNA sequencing, which is a fancy term for identifying the DNA/RNA sequences. In my last year, CreditCards.com and FRI collaborated on a project to identify the microbiomes of different payment methods using next-generation sequencing. I led a team of undergraduate students in designing and executing this project, which was one of my most rewarding experiences in college.

Why did you choose the USF MSDS program?

What distinguished USF’s program from other schools was the practicum. I gain more from my curriculum when I’m able to apply the concepts outside of the classroom. Additionally, since all of my past internships and jobs were research-focused, I wanted to see what it was like working with a business, which has different priorities than a research lab. San Francisco is also a vibrant city with a lot of intelligent individuals who are driving innovations in all areas. I knew I wanted to be here to build my network and to learn from the people I would meet.

What started your interest in Data Science?

I was involved with FRI since day one of my freshman year. Over time, as a researcher and mentor, I got to work on projects and advise younger students on theirs. However, I quickly learned that people create so much data in research, but few will actually move onto the next step and interpret what they were collecting. I took the initiative to teach myself how to use tools such as QIIME2 to analyze the microbiome data my lab was producing. Similar to what I saw in research, there are businesses that are creating data, but aren’t leveraging its value to drive well-informed decisions.

What do you want to pursue after your degree?

I’m fortunate to have parents who prioritized traveling for me at a young age. They made it a point for me to understand the importance of respecting and learning from a culture through immersive experiences like traveling. But the definition of culture isn’t confined by geographic boundaries; it’s a set of values shared by members of a group. There are amazing companies that are working towards connecting people to authentic experiences from different cultures, which I firmly believe leads to creating more empathetic individuals in the end. I would love to work with an organization that helps one person find a life-changing moment on a trip or on a weekend night in their city.

Where you were placed for practicum? What are you excited to do there?

I’m at NakedPoppy, a beauty company that focuses on providing clean makeup products tailored to each unique individual. I’m so thrilled to be there because it’s a small, women-empowered team tackling a multi-billion dollar industry that’s been unregulated for far too long. The U.S. FDA has only banned or restricted 11 chemicals in makeup that are suspected or known toxins. Meanwhile, the European Union has banned or restricted 1,328. I’m so excited to learn from Kimberly and Jaleh (the co-founders), who are exemplary women in data science and marketing respectively.

At NakedPoppy, my partner and I will be working on a recommendation system to select the best products suited to a person’s physical attributes and goals. People wear makeup for different reasons. We’re working towards the goal of helping someone feel more confident in their skin using products that won’t harm them in the long run.

What is your favorite thing to do in SF

I’m from Texas and it’s either too hot (like you can cook eggs on your car “hot”) or cold enough to snow. Then, there’s the occasional hurricane. So, I’m enjoying being able to have picnics outside with my friends. On the weekends, when I’m not studying, I’ll grab a blanket, a charcuterie board from Trader Joe’s, and a pal and head down to Dolores Park.

What ways do you have fun or relax despite a heavy workload?

Besides picnicking, I’ve been an avid reader since I was a kid. Currently, I’m reading Grit by Dr. Angela Duckworth. If you’re looking for a pick-me-up when times are tough, I highly recommend this book. I also take walks around my neighborhood because I hate spending my entire day inside. I have to see the sky and sun for at least twenty minutes. There are lots of coffee shops near me, and I’ve made the effort to befriend the owner and baristas of one around the corner from my apartment. During the weekends, I like to drop by to catch up with them because they’ve made this city feel more like home.