Ozarks Math Majors Take on COVID-19 Dashboard Project

A trio of University of the Ozarks mathematics majors are volunteering their knowledge and skills to enhance the University’s public reporting of COVID-19 cases on campus.

David Bondy, Juan de la Cruz and Nicolas Dunsworth have begun work to improve the Covid-19 dashboard, located on the University’s website, ozarks.edu. The dashboard is updated each day at around noon by University administrators.

Dunsworth, a senior mathematics major and English and economics minor from Clarksville, said the three friends came up with the idea of offering their assistance after looking at the current dashboard and talking with Gloria Arcia, vice president for finance and administration and the chair of the University’s Covid-19 task force.

“The inspiration came out of seeing what the dashboard currently is and seeing the sheer amount of work the University has to get done to keep us all safe,” Dunsworth said. “I looked at the dashboard and figured that was the sort of thing that Juan, David, and I might have some fun working with, as well as being helpful in taking the load off of someone’s back. We spoke with Vice President Arcia, and it worked out from there.”

Dunsworth said people should start noticing changes to the dashboard next week.

“We’re still very much in the design process, but I think we’re looking toward making the dashboard much more comprehensive,” he said. “We’ve been throwing around just about everything we can think of, and we’ve found a few things we like. Hopefully, we’ll be able to provide some helpful visualization for the public.”

Arcia said the students’ assistance on the dashboard has been much welcomed.

“These three gentleman want to be part of the solution,” Arcia said. “They are taking the initiative to help by applying their acquired skills to improve on data visualization. It’s truly remarkable to see our students put their classroom training to work for the good of the University community.”

de la Cruz, a junior mathematics and chemistry major and economics minor from Frontera, Tabasco, Mexico, said the primary goal is to make the dashboard more descriptive and informative.

“When the team and I looked at the dashboard, only three numbers were shown: the number of total tests and the total number of positive and negative cases,” de la Cruz said. “Going through this information made us think that additional information and visualization tools were needed to speak to people more clearly about the current COVID-19 situation. We plan to add time-series plots of the current number of active and cumulative cases. Adding visualization tools such as pie and bar charts to share information that can speak to people in an easier language.”

Bondy, a junior mathematics major from Dallas, and Dunsworth are using knowledge and skills they gained from taking a data analytics boot camp that was offered by the University for the first time this summer.

“Nicolas and I took a summer data visualization course through the data boot camp,” Bondy said. “We thought the University’s visualization was interesting, but we also thought that we could improve it using the skills we learned this summer. In its current state, the visualization shows no signs of progress. The addition of a time series showing a decline in cases will not only make people hopeful, but it will demonstrate that the University’s handling of COVID-19 is or is not working. The data analysis classes allowed us to understand what makes a good visualization, and how to build a visualization in Tableau. Because of the course, not only will we be able to conceptualize a quality visualization, but we will be able to build it as well.”

Said Dunsworth, “The data analytics courses, in particular the data visualization course, helped to prepare me for this by giving me a much-needed perspective. The course taught me some wonderful ways to convey the complex insights that people like us derive from data in a more accessible manner.”

de la Cruz recently teamed up with other students from Mexico to win the CdeCMx Challenge, a competition to propose solutions to emerging problems related to COVID-19 in Mexico.

“In this competition, we analyzed the COVID-19 data from Mexico and one million tweets to find the sentiment in the Mexican population regarding the COVID-19 situation and made visualization that were easy to understand,” he said. “This project helped me to improve my data science skills that will be useful to manage the University’s dashboard.”

The three friends have worked closely together in the past, most notably in representing Ozarks in state mathematics competitions. The three were part of an Ozarks team that finished second overall in in the 2020 Arkansas Undergraduate Mathematics Competition, held Feb. 29 at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia.

“Nicolas, Juan, and I have spent countless hours training for mathematics competitions since the spring of 2019,” Bondy said. “That training helped me develop a more passionate love of mathematics, and a curiosity to explore fields such as data analysis. The training also allowed us to learn about each other. Since then, we have worked together on various classes. Juan is my Jones Learning Center tutor for many of my mathematics courses. Nicolas and I worked together on various assignments during the summer. Our friendship was forged in training for mathematics competitions, and it has led us to seek other projects such as this.”

Dunsworth agreed. “I think it mostly helped in our ability to work together, as well as establishing general procedures for how we go about tasks and problem-solving,” he said. “We’ve worked together enough that we know what each of us individually needs to do to accomplish a larger task.”

Helping the campus community get through this pandemic is a motivating factor for all three students.

“Improving the university dashboard is an important task as it means supporting our Ozarks community using the knowledge and skills that we have acquired during our college education at Ozarks,” de la Cruz said. “We’re just happy to be able to help the Ozarks community in our own small way.”