Project Spotlight: COVID in America Explores Data Integrity


The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a hyper-focus on data. With case counts and restrictions changing monthly and even weekly, it’s become increasingly important for everyone — from healthcare professionals and researchers down to the average person — to stay informed. But just how accurate is the data we’re receiving? 

One group of students from GW Data Analytics Boot Camp at George Washington University explored this question in a project titled “COVID in America.” The project visualizes data in the United States from March through July 30, 2020, analyzing numbers from prominent sources that include: Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The New York Times, and The Atlantic

To understand how this project came to life and what conclusions we can draw from the data, we spoke to Clementine “Clemi” Sraha, one of the data analysts behind the project. 

Developing a bold vision

The COVID in America project was the brainchild of Clemi’s group member Sarah Schulte. The objective was easier said than done: measure the integrity of data that was anchoring news about the developing pandemic. In order to make the project work successfully, the four-person group had to work as a team. 

“Sarah was the mastermind, outlining what the site would look like, doing some initial web scraping, and coordinating each step of the project and its visualization” said Clemi. “I did JavaScript and Python work, and went through and cleaned up the data along with my colleague Carly. Chris spearheaded the HTML and web building, alongside Carly, who helped early on with the web framework. Carly built the large map of America. I made nearly all of the other visualizations.”

Establishing a clear team dynamic helped the group stay focused, especially as they encountered challenges while tackling new material.

Navigating new challenges and discovering strengths

Clemi acknowledges that, at times, the group had some issues to work through. It was a learning experience about working together — one that helped the individual team members grow. “It was unlike any other project I’ve worked on. Our group had both strong and quiet personalities that had to learn to be diplomatic with each other,” said Clemi. “We had clashes that were ultimately very productive and helped us move forward.” 

The project provided plenty of opportunities for the team to challenge themselves technically. If the finished product was to be presented to the public, it needed to meet high standards and answer the question they initially set out to explore. This involved going above and beyond the material used in class.

“The boot camp spent time discussing how to make websites, so we knew how to build our site for a computer — but not a phone or tablet. We had to retroactively revisit media queries to optimize the fit for a variety of devices,” Clemi said.

Clemi was able to stretch her own web development abilities and discover how much she liked coding. Among the features she developed, working alongside Chris, were buttons designed to display or hide the graphs. The task utilized knowledge she acquired at the boot camp and new information she learned on her own over the course of the project.

Presenting a finished project

When GW Data Analytics Boot Camp Demo Day came around, the group had a project they could be proud of. “We presented the information and news as it stands right now, in a clear and meaningful way,” said Clemi. “We were both showing data in a way that people could understand, and helping them understand that information isn’t always what it seems.”

The data only goes up to July 30 because the team downloaded data in a .CSV file. If they could change just one thing, Clemi notes, the team could’ve coded a bot to populate new data from the web. This self-awareness is something the boot camp instills in all of its learners.

“With the right tools, you can teach yourself anything,” Clemi said. “The boot camp really helped me get over the fear of learning things. I came to understand that I have all the resources I need to conquer a new project.” 

Looking to accomplish a portfolio-worthy project — and learn about yourself along the way? Discover GW Boot Camps to jump-start your technology career.


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