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Three professors use data science to tackle educational inequities for minority students

Three professors use data science to tackle educational inequities for minority students

JULY 28, 2021 — Three UTSA professors across disciplines are working together on a project to increase data-based research capacity among higher education institutions that serve a large share of Black and Latinx students. This research collaboration is a clear representation of the university’s commitment and ability to accelerate minority student success.

UTSA is a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), where gathering data related to minority success is crucial. Having UTSA researchers trained in the collection and use of this data is vital to furthering the university’s mission to take bold steps toward becoming a Hispanic thriving institution, a model Hispanic Serving Institution that provides the highest quality education to advance social mobility and economic opportunities for Latino students and their communities.


“(Participation) in this program is a representation of how UTSA is well positioned to address educational inequities for Latinx students.”



From left to right, UTSA professors Sumit Jha, Vanessa A. Sansone and Corey Sparks are participaing in the Leveraging Big Data to Achieve Equity initiative aiming to bolster success for minority students.



The United Negro College Fund’s (UNCF) Institute for Capacity Building has partnered with Excelencia in Education and the Coleridge Initiative to launch Leveraging Big Data to Achieve Equity.

Sumit Jha, professor of computer science, Vanessa A. Sansone, assistant professor of higher education, and Corey Sparks, associate professor of demography, have been selected to participate in the initiative.

Over the summer, the researchers have been participating in online data science training in the statistical programming language “R,” and the database query language SQL. These two languages represent some of the most widely used tools in data science and enable researchers to combine data from large databases and analyze them using cutting-edge statistical routines.

The researchers will be working on projects related to minority student success using restricted-use data from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics and the Institute for Research on Innovation and Science.

“Understanding the inequity in educational outcomes and opportunities is an important part of ensuring how we as an institution serve our students and the population of Texas,” Sparks said.

UTSA is elevating its commitment to research excellence by forming clusters of interdisciplinary experts, who are collaborating to enhance the understanding of particular areas of research that affect Black and Latinx students.

“As data-driven artificial intelligence systems continue to supersede human performance in many areas, I believe that data-driven AI will eventually dominate the education market and substantially support human teaching efforts,” Jha said.

He explained further that the current project is a first step toward this vision and will enable UTSA to build a data-driven approach to understanding the interplay among education, policy and their impact on underrepresented groups.

The UNCF’s Institute for Capacity Building was launched to provide targeted capacity-building resources to help its member institutions improve admission, retention and graduation rates. Excelencia in Education’s mission is to accelerate Latinx student success and create a network of support for Hispanic Serving Institutions.

The Coleridge Initiative works with governments to ensure that data is more effectively used for public decision-making. The partnership of these three organizations is a huge step toward serving minority groups and ensuring there is a level playing field for success.

“Being nationally selected to take part in this program is a representation of how UTSA is well positioned to address educational inequities for Latinx students, especially those enrolled at Hispanic Serving Institutions,” Sansone said.

The selection process was extremely competitive and required the submission of an application and proposal. Excelencia and UNCF selected UTSA out of a national pool.

“Our intention is to yield not only findings that will better support the efforts of UTSA as a nationally leading HSI but also contribute to national policy discussions about the experiences and outcomes of Latinx students at HSIs,” Sansone said. “I am thrilled to be a part of this multidisciplinary team with colleagues who are not only experts in their respective fields but are also committed to students and social justice.”

Ingrid Wright and Amanda Cody



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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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UTSA’s Mission

The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.

UTSA’s Vision

To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.

UTSA’s Core Values

We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.

UTSA’S Destinations

UTSA is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as designated by the U.S. Department of Education.

Our Commitment to Inclusivity

The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic Serving Institution situated in a global city that has been a crossroads of peoples and cultures for centuries, values diversity and inclusion in all aspects of university life. As an institution expressly founded to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved communities, our university is committed to ending generations of discrimination and inequity. UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.