Spotlight: Normandie Gonzalez-Orellana

The Learning Partnership provides support to the Luquillo LTER Schoolyard program in Puerto Rico. The Data Jam project is an important program within the Luquillo Schoolyard program. Students are provided with long-term datasets generated by Luquillo scientists. There is a process for adding datasets to the Data Jam project in which the scientific data is cleaned and organized so that they are manageable for students. Initially, the Data Jam project provided datasets about hydrology and weather events. Last summer, we hosted Normandie González-Orellana as a summer fellow sponsored by EDI, which is the data management organization for the entire LTER network. She cleaned and organized additional datasets related to shrimp and dragonflies. The Learning Partnership’s Cat McGee interviewed Normandie about her experience.

Cat: What interests you about data science?

Normandie: I love data science because it gives me the opportunity to apply statistics and the tools that I know how to use towards different topics. I love ecology and plants, which is what I’m studying now, but I also love education and social sciences.  I always say I want my work to be meaningful, to give something to society. I find that data science gives me the freedom to do different things in different topics. It doesn’t put me in a box. I love sharing everything that I learn. I find kids are discovering the world now, and I think now is when we must start sharing science with them. I didn’t have that when I was a kid, nobody taught me about science, so I started university as a business administration major. And then I discovered science, and everything changed. I want to give young people the opportunity to know what science really is.

Cat: What attracted you to the Luquillo Data Jam Project for your EDI Fellowship placement?

Normandie: At the beginning, I wasn’t attracted to this project because it was in Puerto Rico, and I was thinking that I want to be somewhere different. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. Then when I was reviewing the document, I saw that the project was about education and that they were working with local communities. They were helping and giving tools to teachers in Puerto Rico. So everything changed because then this became my first option. Getting this fellowship was the only thing I cared about. I wanted to be with The Learning Partnership and in Luquillo LTER because I felt like I was giving to my community. It is for Puerto Rico, and I know how much Puerto Rico is lacking in tools and good education. It pains me to see students being affected by this. So, it was very important to me to get this position.

Cat: When you first started, what were some of the things that were the most interesting to you?

Normandie: I think that the logistics and organizational part were the most interesting because I do my own workshops and I want to keep growing as an educator. In the future, I’d love to either create or be part of a program to enhance science education in Puerto Rico. When I was doing the workshops that I planned before this fellowship, I would do as I planned and that’s it. But with The Learning Partnership and LTER, I learned to start changing the workshop according to how the attendees were responding to the content of the workshop. That was mind-blowing for me because I thought it was impossible. But they’re able to adapt the workshop according to the attendees, to meet the needs of the teachers. And everything ran smoothly! It was very gratifying at the end to know that the teachers understood, they were motivated, and that we could teach them what we wanted to teach. That was the most important thing that I learned.

Cat: In what ways did you feel supported throughout the summer?

Normandie: They were always there. I knew where, how, and who I should reach out to if I needed anything. And, in this case, I was mentored by Andee Rubin the “Data Diva.” She was always available. She would answer the emails very fast. And if I wanted to meet, she would respond quickly and make time for me. I am an independent worker. It’s how I’ve been trained here in Puerto Rico. The EDI Fellowship had different tools I could use – a webpage, tutorials. They had office hours every week and then we’d meet every two weeks. I really did have everything that I needed to work.

Cat: Would you say that the fellowship matched your initial expectations?

Normandie:  Yes, it was exactly what I was expecting. I was able to learn but also to apply what I already know, to demonstrate my skills in data science and education. And I could do it in my own time, which I loved. That’s why I was very attracted to this fellowship because many of the programs were remote. I really liked this fellowship. I would apply again if I could.

Cat: Can you describe some of the ways that you grew during your time in the fellowship this summer?

Normandie: I grew mostly on the educational side of things. I got feedback from The Learning Partnership and the LTER crew on the content that I created and the datasets that I built for the kids. It helped me to better understand how to create something to educate kids. Usually, I create content to educate professors or undergraduate students. I’ve never had the experience with secondary students. I learned how to take statistical terms and datasets and bring them to a level that a sixth grader can understand and work with. These kids are doing correlations here in sixth grade and doing their graphs. And I was, like, they can do that so young? Amazing.

Cat: In what other ways did this fellowship help you reach the next step in your profession?

Normandie: Networking. I met people from LTER which, because I work in another forest on the south part of the island, I never have had contact with them. And I learned a lot about other programs in the Luquillo station and I met other scientists. I had the opportunity to talk to them and learn what they were doing. Mostly it was about networking and career exploration.  So now I’m looking to apply for Ph.Ds., and I’m being very picky because now I know that I want something that gives me the opportunity to continue in data science and science education. Being in this internship helped me determine what I want to do.

Cat: What were some of the outcomes of the work that you provided to the Luquillo Data Jam Project?

Normandie: I was able to create three datasets for high school students. I published two data packages in the EDI repository and I created a background document for the datasets that I created, which was very fun because I like to write. I created a little document for teachers to understand about the taxonomic group and about the data and data collection process. Now, I am continuing to work on the publication of the last data package.

Cat: Would you recommend this fellowship to others?

Normandie: Yes, 100%. Because they let you grow. The Learning Partnership and the Luquillo people are very welcoming. It’s very interdisciplinary; it gives you the opportunity to learn about education, science, statistics. You’re developing new skills. At the same time, it’s, comfortable. I wasn’t stressed. I was happy to be there. So, if you’re looking for an opportunity to grow as a data scientist and to form new connections in the science community, this is a perfect opportunity to do it.

Cat: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Normandie: Only that I’m very thankful for the opportunity. Really, I will take it with me forever.