Meriem Touami M.A. '23 earned her degree from the Data Analysis and Applied Statistics master's program based in Northern Virginia.
What is your academic/professional background?
I already have a master’s degree in computer science with a major in information systems and technology from the National School of Computer Science in Algeria. After graduation I did a little bit of everything, from QA [quality assurance] in software development to project management, information system analysis, and business analysis in North African countries, Europe, and the U.S.
In 2019, I started a professional fellowship with boodleAI. It’s a predictive analytics and AI company based in Northern Virginia that helps nonprofit organizations to gain in-depth insights into their donor’s profile, teach them how to engage with the right people in regards to their fundraising campaigns, gain new donors, and deploy targeted omnichannel advertising to attract high-affinity donor prospects destined to stick around – all of this using data, of course – and I've been with them since.
What prompted you to enroll in the DAAS program?
When I started with boodleAI back in 2019, I was still navigating through my career and trying to find where I fit best by doing a little bit of everything. Then I was assigned to our new Chief Data Officer, Kisa Brostrom, at the time. Just like that, I was part of the data team and I loved it. I learned so much with her: how to talk about data, how to use huge data sets and raw data points to tell a simple story by building models that can help shift the business’s entire vision and strategy, and I fell in love with data. I wanted to get the academic background to improve and ground my work. The DAAS program checked every box in my data learning journey checklist.
What did your final Capstone project entail?
When it came to my Capstone project, I reached out to a couple of professors because I wanted to work on a consistent project with real data, big data, and I wanted it to be a real-world situation in order to challenge myself and learn the most out of the experience.
I was introduced to the amazing Dr. Allison Tegge, and we were working on analyzing data from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study. It's a nationally representative longitudinal cohort study on tobacco use, behavior, attitudes and beliefs in tobacco related health outcomes among adults and youth in the U.S. It is actually the first large tobacco research effort undertaken by the National Institute of Health and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), since Congress gave FDA authority to regulate tobacco products in 2009.
What we were trying to do is identify subgroups of tobacco user types amongst the U.S. population and see how they transition over time from one product to another or from a subgroup to another, if any. It was a pretty cool, complicated project.
What are your plans after finishing the DAAS program?
The plan is first, continuing doing amazing things at boodleAI and taking on advanced projects because of all the knowledge that I acquired. We have this cool new project we're currently working on. It's a predictive AI assistant for nonprofits called boodleGPT, powered by the famous GPT that everyone has been fascinated and amazed by. We are creating this middle-layer AI capable of generating predictive behavioral responses of virtually the entire U.S. adult population by adding boodleAI's 35 billion insights about 250 million adult Americans to the famous GPT; this will help businesses obtain predictions about people's behavior using boodleGPT to streamline workflows, improve campaigns and increase revenue.
Second, I really want to pursue a Ph.D. I want to continue down this path of learning because I've learned from this program that there is so much more to learn.
What else do you think you’ve learned since you started the program?
Definitely discipline. It takes a lot of self-discipline to balance school, a full-time job, and personal life. In addition to the rich knowledgebase that I now have, the curriculum really helped me work on my self-development, and even setting and keeping my long-term goals in mind.
At the end, even if it was really difficult to manage, it's very, very rewarding. I was able to meet and learn from outstanding individuals, both direct professors that I had and some I've been introduced to. Also, my cohort fellows – they’ll all be forever part of my professional and personal network. I’ll keep basically learning forever.
What would you say to someone who is considering enrolling in this program?
One hundred percent – enroll. It is 100% rewarding. You'll get to not only learn all of the theory and learn about the academic background you need to, but also practice all of those models and theories using real world data. You’ll even discuss what you're working on – problems at work – with professors and fellow cohorts. Definitely go for it.
Anything else you want to share about your experience?
It's been an amazing experience overall. Two years ago, I was considering enrolling, but I wasn't sure if it the right time in my career to do so. But time passed by like this [*snap*], and it is definitely rewarding. It can change your perspective on what to do next. As I said, set one's career goals in mind. It was a great experience.