I found Sewanee’s DataLab through a recommendation from a friend who participated in its inaugural year. I had previously had some experience with coding, at the time a love-hate relationship, from using RStudio for a capstone project. I was by no means a great coder and had no idea at the time how much you could do with coding. DataLab is a program that begins with a bootcamp for coding that transitions into working on individual community projects. To my surprise, my knowledge of coding did not extend beyond the first day’s instruction. For the next two weeks, I learned more than I ever thought I would know about using RStudio. The boot camp instructors really went above and beyond during this time. I felt as though I not only learned how to write these codes but also was taught why and when to use them. My understanding of sorting data and creating visuals efficiently and effectively became much deeper.
After the boot camp ended, we were sorted into project groups based on our interests. I was in the Sewanee Wetlands group, which worked with Dr. Deborah McGrath on her wetland experiment at the Sewanee Utility District. This was actually my first choice, as I am an environment and sustainability major who has always had an interest in water usage. The Sewanee Wetlands Project looks at the effectiveness of an artificial wetland in Sewanee that intends to help treat our wastewater in a sustainable way. Dr. McGrath was excellent to work with and provided a great foundation for us to work on. Her main task for our group was to create a dashboard that would provide visuals of her data that can be used now and in the future. She gave us some freedom to customize the dashboard and set it up as we thought it should go. It was at this point that you could really tell that the boot camp instruction was of high quality, as each group was able to go off on their own and begin working on their respective projects.
Mentors and instructors were available to help when we became stuck, but I found myself really enjoying the problem-solving aspect associated with writing code. While the project did hit a few bumps along the way, I am really quite proud of the outcome. My group members and I, having limited to no coding experience, were able to produce a dashboard product that will allow Dr. McGrath to use it now and going forward, providing visuals that might one day be used to help make our wastewater cleaning process sustainable.