By Samantha-Jo Caetano (University of Toronto)
In response to disruptions to our students’ plans due to COVID-19 and widespread feelings of isolation, we built a virtual community to help our students build portfolios, meet peers, and explore careers. In all, over 700 students in our programs signed up, and among the 164 students who responded to our end-of-summer survey, 41% were active and 48% passive participants; our data suggests that even passive participation was beneficial in making students feel more connected. As part of the ISSC, we held formal and informal data science workshops, social events, and career-building activities culminating in a DataFest COVID-19 Virtual Challenge. In all, 92 eligible teams applied to participate in DataFest, 62 were invited to compete, and 42 submitted complete submissions. Additionally, we will showcase how the program allowed students to receive feedback from senior-student mentors, professors, and industry-professionals in a low-pressure environment. We will outline the principles guiding how the ISSC was structured including practical advice and tips for building a sustainable community, lessons learned, and plans for 2021.