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Elizabeth Lee with her certificate for the Richard and Patricia Utts Data Science for Social Good Award.

UCI data science major Elizabeth Lee is the 2021 recipient of the Richard and Patricia Utts Data Science for Social Good Award. First established in 2019 by Statistics Professor Emerita Jessica Utts, the award comes with a $5,000 scholarship in support of leveraging data science to make the world a better place.

“I am super grateful for this award and opportunity,” says Lee, who first learned about data science from an alumnus of her high school who went on to major in data science. “He explained to me that it was like a combination of statistics and computer science, and having enjoyed taking AP Statistics previously, I became interested in the field.” She later learned more about how data science is used in real-world applications. “It really amazed me how it influences so much of what we see through a Google search, for example, and the choices that we make.”

Today, Lee is a sophomore in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) who plans to start a career in data science before possibly returning for graduate school. “I hope that data science can be used as a tool to improve statistical literacy in students through the education system,” she says. “So much of what shapes the opinions and thoughts of our current society come from the internet, and with this comes the high chance of misinformation through misleading graphics and data.”

Lee first realized the potential for misinformation back in high school. “After reading How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff in my AP Statistics class, it really opened my eyes to how easily we all can be deceived,” she says. “I hope data science’s incorporation into education helps combat the subtle but dangerous effects of misinformation [and] leads to more productive conversations, help[ing] our society feel comfortable in investigating the information we are presented with.”

Lee’s goal of better incorporating data science into education to combat misinformation sits well with the award’s founder. “Her focus on improving statistical literacy aligns with what I spent my career promoting,” says Utts (who in August earned the 2021 George Cobb Lifetime Achievement Award in Statistics Education). “And statistical literacy now plays a major role in the careers pursued by both of my parents, for whom this scholarship is named, with one in journalism and the other in social work,” she adds. “I’m delighted that Elizabeth is the recipient of this scholarship.”

— Shani Murray

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