Dad’s cancer diagnosis inspired Kennesaw State student’s award-winning research

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jan 30, 2024

Desyne Martinez
One of the most important lessons students who venture into data science are taught is that the data they analyze tell stories. At Kennesaw State University’s Fall Analytics Day, Desyne Martinez’s project told a powerful personal story through data.

Martinez, a senior, presented his semester research project on stage 3 of multiple myeloma, a rare form of bone marrow cancer. It was exactly what his father, who Martinez idolizes, had been diagnosed with in 2020 and is still battling.

“When my dad was first diagnosed, my mom and I wanted to understand how he could be in stage 3, which is considered terminal, without us knowing?” Martinez said. “How did it get that far along?”

Martinez is a mathematics major who realized his love of statistics and the application of real-world data. His father’s cancer battle drove his need to understand every bit of data he could get about stage 3 multiple myeloma. It served as the inspiration for his Analytics Day project, a semester-end event in the School of Data Science and Analytics where both undergraduate and graduate students have poster presentations of their research projects. Martinez’s project was produced while taking a Directed Studies course with senior lecturer of statistics Susan Hardy. Martinez credits her with much of his success on the project.

“She is truly phenomenal,” Martinez said. “She would answer all my questions all the time. This may sound odd, but she just has this loving aura about her. You can tell she wants her students to be as successful as they can be. I wanted her to see me as really driven and be proud of me.”

Martinez did a deep dive into where the cells of multiple myeloma hide in a person’s body. He learned that the cancerous cells could have been in his father’s body for at least two years prior to the diagnosis. He learned that the survival rate was less than five years. But the more Martinez learned, and the more he witnessed his father fight his cancer battle, the more optimistic he felt.

“This disease is inconsistent in how it affects people,” Martinez said.  “I will tell you that David Martinez, my father, will not be defined by this. I believe the doctors look at him as a source of hope for others. He is strong and resilient, and he’s pushing through and tackling this.”

Desyne Martinez
In November at Fall Analytics Day, in a massive ballroom at the KSU Center packed with anxious students, their families, and Kennesaw State faculty and staff, Martinez sat quietly at a table with his parents and his siblings. They listened to industry experts talk about the vast number of lucrative careers in data science and waited patiently for the winners of Analytics Day to be announced. This Fall Analytics Day had 150 external guests come to learn and find talented students to hire for jobs and internships. The event had one of the largest external guest counts since it started in 2007.

Finally, associate professor of statistics Nicole Ferguson began to announce the winners. When Martinez heard his name called as the second place winner for undergraduates, he jumped up from his seat with a smile a mile wide. His mother burst into applause, his father fist pumped the air, and both were in tears.

“This is emotional for me,” David Martinez said. “This is huge. It’s such a big deal. My son has been with me through my cancer journey from the beginning, and I’m just so proud of him that it’s hard to put into words.”

“I’m overwhelmed with joy,” Sandy Martinez said. “He worked so hard and found out so much we didn’t even know about this disease. I’m really thankful to his amazing professor, Susan Hardy, too. She pushed him and challenged him, and I appreciate it all so much.” Martinez’s voice broke as she finished. “I’m crying because I want Desyne to know his worth and he can achieve anything he wants.”  

As Martinez was presented with a $500 check for winning, his smile remained big and radiant.

“I was in shock that they called my name,” Martinez said. “But I just kept thinking, ‘wow, these professionals were grading my presentation, and they thought my work was possibly the same caliber they do, that’s amazing.’ I was extra proud that my parents got to see their son be successful.”  

Martinez, who is from Dallas, Georgia, will graduate in December this year. He said his project has made him realize he may want to become a professional researcher of cancer or other diseases. He has learned that there are still endless more stories to tell through data science.

– Amanda Cook

Photos were submitted

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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