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Data Science Makes a Difference

Learn how Soheb Osmani uses analytics to further his humanitarian aims—and his career.

Written by Philip Baker
Volunteers giving out free packed of food during food drive.

MScA student Soheb Osmani steers his life with an overriding focus: he wants to help people.

That was the idea behind Osmanli Merchants, the philanthropic organization he co-founded to provide relief to a village in northern India at the height of the pandemic. What started as an effort to bring food and basic Covid-19 awareness to an overlooked population quickly expanded into a more far-reaching mission.

“Sambhal is a town of small merchants and they were losing money because they didn’t have smart inventory,” says Osmani. “Everything was on paper, and the disarray of Covid meant they needed a more automated way of managing things.”

Osmanli Merchants partnered with local NGOs and worked to transform the formerly paper-based inventory systems to smart ones. “Using smart inventory is really basic data science, but automating the way they managed their inventory really transformed business in Sambhal.

“We also introduced IoT devices to cut down on goods going missing and getting stolen. By adding a SIM card with GPS tracking labels into their shipments, we were able to reduce theft by 50%.”

That’s why data science speaks volumes to me. We could help people make the right decisions based on mathematical truth.

Soheb Osmani, MScA student

Decisions based in truth

Osmani, who works full-time as a Digital Leadership Development Program Associate at Raytheon Technologies, immediately felt the power of advanced data science when he first encountered it as an undergraduate at William and Mary. 

“I fell in love with how data science provides the key to figuring out problems for every other application,” he says. “I wanted to see where I could make the biggest impact across the board—for finance, for the economy, for social good. That’s why data science spoke volumes to me. We could help people make the right decisions based on mathematical truth.”

Using data science to positively impact the response to the pandemic was an obvious next step for Osmani. For his data science honors thesis, he focused on pulmonary embolism, a condition whose diagnosis had become more complicated with Covid-19. Osmani proposed a machine learning algorithm that was able significantly to improve correct diagnosis when used in conjunction with existing criteria. 

“The success of that project really drove my passion to do more data science work linked to making positive changes in the world,” he says.

Guided by theory, rooted in application

For Osmani, positive impact is what’s important—and that starts with data.

The desire to deepen his data science skills and gain expertise brought him to the Master of Science in Analytics (MScA) program. As a part-time student, Osmani is based in New York, but even from afar he maintains high engagement with the MScA program.

In addition to fully synchronous classes and frequent networking opportunities, Osmani traveled to Chicago for the Autumn Immersion Weekend where he connected on campus with professors, alumni, and other students. He was especially impressed by the Data Science Institute—the center of the University of Chicago’s bold and innovative vision for the new discipline of data science.

“What I really like about the Data Science Institute and the MScA program is that they’re focusing on a new approach to data science,” he says. “Rather than theory-based, it’s application-based, and that’s really important because data science is a field that’s being primarily shaped by those who are practicing it.”

Despite just starting out in the program, Osmani has already seen classwork pay practical dividends on what he’s able to accomplish at work.

“In my class on leadership skills, we’re learning how to convey messages to senior leadership using data,” he says. “The lessons have directly translated into my work. We talk to senior leadership regularly and I’ve been able to use strategies from class to make my communications more readily understood and more compelling.”

I’m here to gain skills that I will then put to use helping people in need. To me that seems like the right thing to do as a human being.

Soheb Osmani, MScA student

The right thing to do

Meanwhile, Osmani’s philanthropic efforts continue to grow. Osmanli Merchants’ is currently focused on securing educational resources for children in rural areas. They have run food and clothing drives and have also started a school for young girls that offers coding instruction while providing a safe space, three meals a day, and other vital necessities.

“I’m not going to lie—a fulltime job and grad school would be a lot as it is, but by adding these other commitments I’ve made it difficult for myself,” Osmani says. “But that’s why I’m in the MScA program. I’m here to gain skills that I will then put to use helping people in need. To me that seems like the right thing to do as a human being.”

Students in a classroom laughing with one another.

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