Program aims to ignite youth excitement in data science careers

Wake Forest will host 2nd annual Florence Nightingale Day

Middle and high school students in the Piedmont region will have an opportunity to explore careers in the growing field of statistics and data science.

The free event, known as Florence Nightingale Day, will take place on April 20 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Manchester Hall at Wake Forest University.

“From public health and medicine to baseball and political campaigns, statistical skills in data science can be beneficial in many career paths and in everyday life.” Lucy D’Agostino McGowan, assistant professor of statistics at Wake Forest

The goal of the program is to engage kids, promote future career opportunities, and celebrate the contributions of women to these fields. Although best known as a pioneer in nursing, Nightingale also had a significant impact on the use of statistics to improve health outcomes.

“It’s an immersive way of bringing middle and high schoolers into statistics and data science. We try to make it very interactive,” said Sarah Lotspeich, also an assistant professor of statistics.

 Merging fun with math and statistics

Students will get to experiment with several hands-on activities.

The day is filled with lots of hands-on activities, including a catapult that students will use to explore experimental design concepts. To learn about machine learning, kids will build a classification algorithm of cats and dogs.

These types of exercises help develop valuable analytical and problem-solving skills.

All students 13 years old and up can participate.

“It’s not just an event – it brings kids to a college campus,” said David Kline, assistant professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “Kids get to be in a college classroom and experience a college environment for an afternoon.”

Meeting the experts 

Middle and high schoolers will be able to meet data science experts and ask questions.

A highlight of the program is a diverse panel of field experts who will talk about their career experiences. Three women speakers representing different careers in statistics (industry, academia, and medicine) will also answer questions from students at the end of the session.

This year’s panelists are Wake Forest alumna Amy Zinnia, ‘22 B.S., a biostatistician at Wake Forest University Medical Center, Emily Griffith, Ph.D., director of consulting, associate professor of the practice (Statistics) at North Carolina State University, and Portia Exum, M.S. manager, software development engineer in Test at SAS. 

“I’m excited to share and answer questions from youth about what I do for work and my journey in getting there,” Zinnia said. “I had little to no exposure to statistics until senior year of high school. I did not fully know what I could do with it. You don’t have to have a Ph. D to find career opportunities in data science and I hope these stories inspire and motivate kids that they can do it too.” 

Partnering with WSSU

The event is cosponsored by Wake Forest’s Department of Biostatistics and Data Science at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the Department of Statistical Sciences on the Reynolda Campus.

Felicia Simpson and expert panelists shared their career journeys at the 2023 Wake Forest event.

This year, organizers are partnering with Winston-Salem State University.

This partnership is building synergy between the two universities in the community and our goal is to have a lasting impact,” said Felicia Simpson, chair of the math department at WSSU and a co-organizer of this year’s event.

Simpson was one of the expert panelists at the inaugural Florence Nightingale Day held at Wake Forest last spring. She’s heavily involved in educational community outreach programs for youth in Forsyth County.  

“Early exposure is so important,” she said. “The event that we are having on April 20 changes what it looks like to be a statistician. It doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a male, it doesn’t matter your race or your ethnicity – if you love math and you love numbers then let’s tie it to your interests. It’s about meeting students where they are,” added Simpson.

According to a recent report, few students take statistics before college. In 2023, just over 242,000 of approximately 15.4 million U.S. high schoolers took the Advanced Placement (AP) statistics exam– a slight increase from 2022.

“When you see the growth in North Carolina alone, with industries like biotech and pharmaceuticals in the Research Triangle and the expansion even right here in Winston-Salem with Innovation Quarter, you get an idea of why planting seeds of interest about these fields are so important to our communities, our state and our future,” Kline said.

Overall employment of mathematicians and statisticians is projected to grow 30 percent from 2022 to 2032, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. 

Florence Nightingale Day was launched in 2018 at a handful of higher education institutions across the country. During the Crimean War, she applied quantitative and visualization data techniques in her work to care for wounded soldiers who were hospitalized. 

Registration is encouraged for the event. Families can find out more here.

Media members are invited to attend. Parking is available in lots M, C, G or E. For more information or to schedule an interview contact Keri Brown:, 336-758-4442 or C: 336-971-5402.

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