Kennesaw State program positions students to generate positive impact through research

KENNESAW, Ga. | Sep 17, 2021

What some may see as the standard class project, Susan Hardy sees an opportunity to positively impact society.

Kara Dees
Kara Dees

A senior lecturer in Kennesaw State University’s School of Data Science and Analytics, she is among the faculty responsible for mentoring students through research projects in the School’s Minor in Applied Statistics and Analytics. Having guided more than 50 projects and accompanying students to high-caliber conferences, she asks every student to follow a simple directive: Find something you’re passionate about.

In return, students in the minor program have responded by tackling issues ranging from prison reform to infant mortality to food deserts, all through a statistical lens. Their projects demonstrate how data permeates practically all aspects of society and can often be the answer to its biggest challenges, Hardy said.

“Beyond the findings, our students are also learning how to package themselves for the job market,” she added. “These projects demonstrate their ability to problem solve with a data-driven approach, and to convey their findings so data analysts and the general public can understand. The results of their studies have been shared with legislators in Washington, the Georgia State Capitol and internationally.”

Jacob Rybak
Jacob Rybak

Kennesaw State alumna Kara Dees is among those who have seen her research generate a societal impact. While pursuing the applied statistics and analytics minor to complete her degree in electrical engineering in the Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, she was inspired to base her research around the study of internet accessibility at 22 public libraries around the Georgia. Her research found that 19 of the 22 libraries selected for the study failed to meet Federal Communications Commission minimum standards, potentially harming citizens who didn’t otherwise have access to internet.

Her findings would eventually catch the attention of Georgia State Sen. Steve Gooch, who previously sponsored legislation to improve rural broadband access. Prior to Dees’ study, regulators weren’t fully aware of the extent of the issue.

"The detail that goes into these projects is astounding, because the faculty pushed us to make sure that we approached our topics intelligently and thoroughly in order to make informed decisions,” said Dees, now a research engineer at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. “I grew a lot as a researcher throughout my undergraduate studies and internships, and gained skills that I continue to use professionally.”

Lawren Cumberbatch
Lawren Cumberbatch

Like Dees, several other students have used their projects to explore their passions, said Michael Frankel, who coordinates the applied statistics and minor program. Often, students present their findings at the annual Analytics Day conference hosted by the School of Data Science and Analytics. In April, Jacob Rybak presented his research on prison reform and recidivism, winning first place in the undergraduate category. He has gone on to present at seven different research conferences, including ones hosted by Harvard University, Virginia Tech and Stanford University, the latter of which invited him as a plenary speaker.

Another student, Lawren Cumberbatch, finished second for her study on food deserts across Georgia and their impact on segments of the population.

“When you pick topics you are interested in, you are going to understand the applicability of the skills we are teaching all the better,” Frankel said. “Our students are approaching fields and analyzing it in ways that wouldn’t traditionally happen without the use of statistics, and the results lead to a more promising future for our communities.”

– Travis Highfield

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit