Alumna develops program used to collect Twitter data
THE SANTA CLARA
January 7, 2016
When Melissa Bica graduated from Santa Clara in 2014, she left not only with a degree in computer engineering, but also with a desire to apply her knowledge and skill set for social benefit.
Her latest project, a data mining tool called RendezView, which allows data analysts to look at social media in new and innovative ways, is doing just that.
“I knew that I liked computer engineering and computer science and programming and technology, but I really wanted to be able to apply that to the real world,” she said.
Currently a candidate for a joint Master’s and Ph.D. degree from the University of Colorado Boulder in computer science, Bica studies crisis informatics—a type of human-centered computing with real world applications for social benefit.
Earlier this year, Bica spent the summer months at a national lab in Japan doing a fellowship with the Open Science Data Cloud Partnership for International Research and Education. It was there that she and her mentor Kyoungsook Kim developed the prototype for her tool.
Using Twitter data, the program she created helps data analysts by displaying relationships, patterns and new insights that are often lost or missed when looking through a database or an Excel spreadsheet.
But those hoping to use the tool to find out the number of botched Starbucks orders this morning, will be out of luck.
“During disasters and crisis events, it would be really useful to get a lot of information and find patterns and see where people are tweeting from,” Bica said. “Keywords are really useful and important during certain events.”
Bica got her first taste of using computer science for social benefit in a class at Santa Clara taught by Silvia Figueira, an associate professor of computer engineering and director of the on-campus Frugal Innovation Lab. Under the direction of Figueria, Bica and her classmates created computer applications for social benefit and the first of now many applications that aid the homeless.
“I understand what she’s doing and it’s really cool and it’s a powerful tool for social benefit,” Figueira said, who later became Bica’s advisor on her senior design project and urged her to apply for graduate school.
Another experience, which Bica said was one of the most significant parts of her undergraduate career, was the fellowship she did through the Global Social Benefit Institute–which is housed under the newly renamed Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. In the summer of 2013, Bica traveled to rural India where she worked with two social enterprises, Anudip and iMerit, to provide technology training to women.
“Especially when you’re doing technology for society, you have to understand the context and the needs of the people and the environment. And because of her personality, she was able to,” said Radha Basu, an associate professor of computer engineering and the CEO of iMerit who mentored Bica during her fellowship.
According to Bica, RendezView is still in the prototype phase, but ideally she would like to see it developed into a website that would allow users to upload their own data and run the program on it.
Since ending her fellowship in Japan, Kim has taken the lead in continuing to develop the tool while Bica has returned to her full time Ph.D. program. After leaving Japan, Bica presented RendezView at a tech conference and co-authored a paper about the tool with Kim.
“Hopefully this tool will be fully developed either by me or my mentor… It’s really meant to make [data] more visual and easier to understand,” Bica said.
Contact Jenni Sigl at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.