Skip to main content

Rice's D2K Lab Offers Companies Free Data Science Assistance

Published Mar 03, 2021 by A.J. Mistretta

Rice University exterior

Businesses and organizations in the Houston region looking to better understand their data to help make smarter decisions have a resource at Rice University. 

Rice’s Center for Transforming Data to Knowledge, or D2K Lab, offers a weekly Data Science Consulting Clinic where organizations can get advice on how to collect, analyze and use their business data to plan for the future. It’s just one of the offerings of the center, which also manages its Capstone program that helps companies, researchers in the Texas Medical Center and community organizations run big data projects over the course of a semester or year. 

“These programs offer our students an opportunity to work with real world data science challenges while at the same time helping our partners leverage our student talent, as well as computational and machine learning capabilities, to find the solutions they need,” said Jennifer Sanders, program administrator for the D2K Lab. “Our consulting clinic is great because it’s free, it’s open to the public and it gives organizations and companies ideas on how to start to look at this data they have in new and useful ways.” 

Client organizations can schedule a virtual appointment with students and faculty in the clinic each Monday between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Students use this time to understand the challenges and objectives of the organization and then take the remainder of the week to develop a plan for the client to collect and use the data they need. Clients even get an additional free consultation with their team to help analyze the data they begin to collect. For example, a restaurant manager wanting to project his maintenance costs in the year ahead could work with clinic students to develop a statistical model analyzing previous costs and making projections to assist with the restaurant’s overall budget. 

Before COVID-19, the clinic was a drop-in offering for organizations who were able to visit the Rice campus. Now that it’s gone virtual, the clinic’s reach has expanded to more organizations across the metro area, Sanders said. 

The clinic has assisted more than 100 different organizations over the last two years, and more are learning about the opportunity each week. 

“This work gives our students the experience of working on teams, presenting their findings—all of the things that make them a better professional,” said Shanna Jin, communications specialist with the D2K Lab. “What we’re really doing is training the next generation of real-world problem solvers.” 

The information and data shared with the Lab is protected under sponsored research agreements for Capstone projects and waivers for clinic clients. 

Learn more about the program and schedule an appointment at the clinic

Related News

Digital Technology

Connecting the Dots to Help Get Houston Back on Track

9/27/21
Houston, like most places in the world, is forever changed by the pandemic that broke in the spring of 2020. The metro region lost 361,400 jobs in the ensuing recession, making it worse than the jobs lost in the Great Recession and the oil bust in the 1980’s. Houstonians and our local economy have been hurting ever since, and though much progress has been made, we have only recouped about 60 percent of those lost jobs. More needs to be done to help and support people and employers. It is worth reminding ourselves how we got here. The COVID-19 epidemic has been a disrupting event like few of us have seen. It shut us down and stressed our hospital systems almost to the breaking point. We worried about the sick and grieved over those who we lost. Our workforce suffered as millions of people stayed home and away from work. Many stayed away for a long, long time, even after employers began to open their doors again. The employment gap has hindered our recovery and put us on pause in a way we haven’t seen in our lifetime. Effects of the pandemic have disproportionately impacted and displaced women, communities of color, and workers with low levels of educational attainment.  The Partnership has for years worked with member organizations and local governments to make greater Houston a metro that could thrive by building a strong, diverse 21st century economy, offering a great quality of life, and ensuring opportunity for all.  When the pandemic threatened to upset this path, the Partnership tapped two community leaders, Matt Morris and Chase Robison, to provide key leadership and work with its Regional Workforce Development division to help chart a path forward. The idea for Houston Back on Track was born. During an UpSkill Works Forum on September 8, our first stakeholders announced Houston Back on Track as the job recovery initiative that promises to connect the dots between displaced workers and our employer partners. Through key partnerships and new ways of combining and coordinating our collective efforts, Houston Back on Track will provide job seekers with the necessary support and resources they need while searching for their next great role and career in healthcare, customer service, transportation/distribution. This alliance of community partners, education providers, and employers is a game changer that should help put Houstonians back to work in jobs with great opportunities for upskilling and growth. Houston Back on Track is supported by organizations and companies committed to making positive change. On the employer side, we are proud to have the support of: HCA Houston Healthcare, Houston Methodist, Mustang CAT, Primary Services, and Silver Eagle Distributors. These companies are seeking to hire hundreds of new employees through this effort. Our community partners will provide career coaching and wraparound services to help prepare job seekers for these roles. They are Wesley Community Center, Houston Area Urban League, Change Happens!, WorkFaith, LISC Houston, and United Way of Greater Houston. While some of these community partners will provide critical preparation and training for clients directly, we will also tap into the expertise and services of our education providers: Lone Star College, Houston Community College, and San Jacinto College. Finally, we will offer online training through LinkedIn Learning, a platform that provides a rich selection of courses in many areas of professional development. This alliance is designed for impact and will scale in the coming months. We know our challenges are great. Fears about contracting the virus are still keeping a gap between people and jobs. This is not our only variable. Many people have reconsidered what they want from their careers, and they are hoping to make a change in industry and occupation. Others want more stability, higher wages, and better benefits than they had before the pandemic. There are impacts that are still unknown to us, but one thing is certain: many job seekers will build off their existing skills and develop new skills as they move into the roles they want. It may be that our work is cut out for us, but we are committed. The partners behind Houston Back on Track are dedicated to not just connecting the dots, but also to helping improve lives. A great job can change the trajectory of an entire family. Our efforts are underway, and we will grow and scale in coming months. Our work starts with employers who need to hire qualified, entry-level workers in occupations with pathways for growth. Join Houston Back on Track if your company is committed to charting a new path forward for Houstonians displaced by the pandemic. Good results are coming.   Connect with the Houston Back on Track team by visiting HoustonBackOnTrack.org or contacting BackOnTrack@Houston.org. 
Read More
Economic Development

Education & Workforce Council: Supporting an Inclusive Energy Workforce Recovery 

9/20/21
Eighteen months ago, record job losses were recorded across the Houston region. Nationally, unemployment due to the effects of COVID-19 in 2020 disproportionately affected communities of color, women, and workers with a high school diploma or who had attended some college or held an associate level degree. As of this summer, roughly 58 percent of jobs lost in March and April 2020 in Houston have been regained. During the Partnership’s September Education & Workforce Council, Peter Beard, Partnership senior vice president of Regional Workforce Development, Jose Beceiro, Partnership senior director of Global Energy 2.0, and Dr. Allatia Harris, vice chancellor of Strategic Initiatives at San Jacinto College, shared initiatives underway that support inclusive job recovery and workforce development, and the transition of oil and gas workers to new, Energy 2.0 roles in the wake of the pandemic and changing energy market. Getting Houston Back on Track Beard discussed the Partnership’s work with employers, nonprofit partners in United Way of Greater Houston’s THRIVE network and others, and community colleges to develop the new job recovery initiative Houston Back on Track. This initiative connects workers displaced by the pandemic to coaching support, wraparound services, and short-term education they may need to help them get to the ‘front door’ of companies with good opportunities for long-term employment in in-demand roles. At present, employment areas comprise of healthcare, transportation and warehousing, and customer service and support, including for information technology areas and within Energy 2.0 companies. The initiative is seeking additional employment partners.  “We have a huge opportunity in Houston to come together and work with our neighbors and with our education and community partners to create pipelines into the roles that our employers need to have filled,” Beard said. Leveraging a Strong Energy Workforce Despite the pandemic and a downturn in the energy market, Houston remains a vibrant, global, and leading energy economy, and Beceiro shared how the Partnership and the region have been able to leverage its energy workforce to attract Energy 2.0 companies. “We're seeing a trend now of non-traditional or new energy tech projects and companies finding a home in Houston to take advantage of the energy talent that we have,” he said. Houston and the Partnership have recently recruited energy transition incubators and companies, such as Greentown Labs and Unity Global, attracted to the region due to its tech and energy talent. Displaced oil and gas workers are finding new opportunities within new, rapidly growing energy sectors including hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, and renewable energy areas including solar, wind, and battery energy storage, he said noting how skill sets could transfer from one industry to another. Cloud service providers have recently sought talent from Houston’s oil and gas sector, too, he said. Building Talent for the Future San Jacinto College recognized that its students were facing more challenges, from funding and childcare needs to food insecurities; Harris described how the college helped meet those needs through a variety of initiatives and funding opportunities including the 21Forward Scholarship, the Promise @ San Jac program, grants for childcare assistance, and a fast track tuition discount for credit and non-credit programs that prepare students for in-demand careers.  Harris noted an uptick in workforce program enrollments and an unprecedented, 60 percent increase in enrollment for college preparation and development courses such as reading and writing, developmental math, and college readiness. She hypothesized that the change was related to the shift from traditional classroom settings to online or non-traditional settings in high schools.  “We’re just going to have to work harder to find the ways to build those basic literacy skills so that the students can master the other skills that prepare them to be what our employers need them to be,” she said. Seeking and Retaining a Skilled Workforce Employers increasingly need a workforce with digital skills, who can manage spreadsheets and customer relationship management systems, and are proficient in business management programs and software. They also understand that employees can learn various technical skills on the job, so they’re seeking talent with the soft skills that show that they can learn and grow, Beard said. He pointed to a trend of employers investing into talent in new ways, like through tuition benefits to support learning and growth that make employees more versatile and that, in turn, help with retention. Beceiro added that employers see how a good quality of life plays into recruiting and keeping talent. San Jacinto’s students represent the future workforce. They’re eager to learn and can learn but, Harris said, like the workforce across various age groups, they need confidence that things will be okay and they need support. “The future is bright, but there’s a lot of work and a lot of caring [needed] for us to get there,” she said. Learn more about the Partnership’s Houston Back on Track job recovery initiative here. See how the Partnership is leading the global energy transition here.
Read More

Related Events

Aerospace & Aviation

Innovation Council

Join the Greater Houston Partnership at our annual Innovation Council as we discuss how the city of Houston will continue expanding its digital sectors as a nationally-recognized city of the future.  Speakers…

Learn More
Learn More