STL DataFest unites the region's data scientists

STL DataFest will feature presentations and discussions on a range of data applications – from data science's impact in particular fields to larger questions of data ethics, privacy, and security. 

Abby Stylianou loves to think about and tinker with data.

Even when she isn’t working as an assistant professor in Saint Louis University’s Department of Computer Science, you can find her on X (formerly Twitter) digging into elaborate analyses of St. Louis City SC’s passing and shooting habits on the soccer pitch. 

In short, she is an ideal member of the organizing committee behind STL DataFest, the upcoming data-centric conference that will be hosted at Washington University May 16-17. It’s an event created by data nerds, for data nerds – whether they work at a prestigious institution or not.

“When we think about data science, people may have a myopic view of what that means,” Stylianou said. “We’re hoping to bring together people from all different walks of life and all different communities that think about data, how it can be used – and how it can be used for good.”

Presented by the Transdisciplinary Institute in Applied Data Sciences (TRIADS) and WashU Here and Next, STL DataFest will feature presentations and discussions on a range of data applications – from data science's impact in particular fields to larger questions of data ethics, privacy, and security. The conference is currently accepting proposals for presentations, discussion groups, and poster submissions through Friday, April 19.

“We can pretend that data and the methods that we use to analyze it are agnostic to the issues,” Stylianou said. “But that just isn’t true. The data has a bias and the models that we build learn those biases. To me, it’s just so vitally important that we talk about those issues, and that is exactly the benefit of events like DataFest.”

In addition to Stylianou, DataFest has assembled an all-star team of an organizing committee, including representatives from WashU, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the City of St. Louis, TechSTL, and several other regional heavy hitters. 

But perhaps the biggest get for the event is former Missouri governor Jeremiah W. “Jay” Nixon, who will serve as DataFest’s honorary program chair. Nixon initially connected with TRIADS director Jacob Montgomery through Montgomery’s wife, Lisa Hoppenjans, who practiced law with Nixon at the St. Louis law firm Dowd Bennett. 

Following his years of public service as a state senator, attorney general, and governor, Nixon has a fascination with big, long-term ideas and the people who dream them. When Montgomery pitched him on DataFest, it felt like a natural fit.

“It meets the standard we had in my second term as governor, which was, ‘We want to do things for people that will never know our names,’” Nixon said. “If you can get people thinking on these longer-term problems, with an institution of WashU’s magnitude, that has the intellectual assets that it’s got, you can see a challenge through to the end.”

Nixon is also excited to see WashU-produced endeavors like DataFest that unite different St. Louis stakeholders, thrusting the university into a more active role in the region. Both Here and Next and the Arts & Sciences Strategic Plan, of which TRIADS is a signature initiative, embrace the goal of breaking down the barriers between Washinton University and its hometown.

“I think that’s especially hard in this community, because of the split between the city and the county and the political divides that exist,” Nixon said. “There isn’t a unifying political purpose in the region. But I think the best thing that WashU can do for St. Louis is to give it a broader vision of itself. This university is one of the places in this community that literally touches the world.”

Learn more about STL DataFest on TRIADS' website.