The Graham School News

Mark Nemec
Tuesday, April 25, 2017

It has been announced that Dean Mark R. Nemec has accepted the position of president of Fairfield University in Connecticut, effective July 1, 2017.

As Dean, Mark led the development of a school-wide strategic plan and related reorganization focused on three academic domains: professional studies, bridge programs, and the liberal arts. He has done this while significantly increasing the Graham School’s capacity to engage globally and as a civic partner, with an innovative approach to fostering lifelong learning. Mark’s efforts in curricular innovation and new program development created opportunities to bring University of Chicago educational experiences to new constituents and non-traditional students as well as more alumni of the University, in Chicago, and around the world.

Chris Guymon, Senior Associate Dean and Chief Operating Officer of the Graham School, has agreed to serve as interim Dean, effective July 1. Chris, who has worked in several roles at the Graham School since 1986, will work closely with Bala Srinivasan, Associate Provost and Special Advisor to the President, during the transition until a new dean is in place.

The Graham School extends hearty congratulations to Mark on the recognition of his talents and on this appointment. We wish him well and are grateful for his many contributions to the Graham School and the broader University of Chicago community.

Monday, April 24, 2017

With an undergraduate degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology, Paul Maripadavil began his career working as a rehabilitation technician at outpatient clinics helping therapists provide care. Coming from a family with a background in nursing, it was a type of work he was familiar with and even encouraged to enter. After several years in the field, however, as he started to plan his next step, he found himself hesitating to proceed further down that path. In fact, he was thinking more about computer programming, an area he’d known he’d always had a knack for. He’d even started learning how to program in Python during his free time in recent years.

“I’ve always been interested in the software side of things,” Paul says. “Even at work, where there’s no IT tech, I fell naturally into that role. Someone would have a frustrating computer issue and I’d be able to figure it out. That feeling—when you finally arrive at the solution to a programming problem—that’s really one of the most rewarding feelings for me.”

He began looking into graduate programs in programming that might at the same time complement his degree in biology and work experience. Paul says that he had an intuition that a field like Biomedical Informatics (BMI) might exist even before he’d first seen the evidence for it. While working in the medical setting and doing some research into EHR systems—and while also teaching himself how to code—he naturally started wondering how computer systems get implemented in a clinical environment. That’s the path that led him to discover the field of Biomedical Informatics. It’s also when he first learned about and then proceeded to apply to the BMI program at the University of Chicago Graham School.

“The name recognition of the University of Chicago was a big part,” Paul says. “Just the fact that so many Nobel Laureates have been with the University made me excited about going there. But there were more practical considerations too,” he adds. “Living in the south suburbs and working full-time meant that the evening classes offered by the program were real pluses when it came to making the program feasible for me.”

Now in his second year of the program, he’s already learned plenty that’s confirmed his decision to enter the field. He highlights in particular a class focusing on government policies and initiatives currently shaping the HealthIT landscape. If the topic of data standards in healthcare might strike some as potentially boring, for Paul it’s now an area not only providing a wealth to think about but also much to look forward to.

“What’s exciting about the BMI program is how the coursework gives you a peek at the future of medicine and healthcare,” he says. “We’re beginning to see the emergence of a world where medical decisions will be based more and more on evidence taken from data. Working to solve the problems around data standards and making it possible for precision medicine to exist doesn’t only make me hopeful for the future of medicine, it makes me hopeful for my own employment future as well, since solving these sorts of challenges brings me a tremendous satisfaction.”

Visual Arts students looking at art work in a gallery.
Friday, April 14, 2017

As a preview for his upcoming writing class in the Graham School’s Visual Arts Certificate Program starting April 19, art critic and curator Jason Foumberg led a discussion at the Hyde Park Art Center focused on writing’s role in empowering one’s practice as an artist. Noting how an ability to write clearly and persuasively has become a necessary component to one’s professionalization as an artist, Foumberg also highlighted how the capacity to position one’s work in writing within a broader constellation of contemporary artistic debate is a powerful way to take the lead on shaping the discussion surrounding one’s work.

With an MA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and experience writing for Chicago Magazine,, and other publications, Foumberg started as an artist whose passionate engagement with art history led him to begin writing about art. Also a curator for the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation in Chicago, he resists calling himself solely a writer, seeing his essays and reviews as part of a larger enterprise of thinking about art and understanding its history.

“Writing about art is about capturing a point of view or angle onto the work,” Foumberg said. “It provides the reader with an orientation. As an artist, whether it’s your own artist statement, a grant application, or a critique of another artist’s work, writing is not only a great way to let others know what you are about as an artist, it’s also a way to discover and open up paths of exploration and connection between your own work and the history it’s emerging from. The class will be about developing that sort of skill as a writer.”

Calling the artist statement at once the most necessary and least interesting piece of writing you’ll do as an artist, Foumberg described his upcoming class as bookended by the task of producing a polished version of this indispensible document. Through reading artists’ comments on their art and writing reviews of current shows at the Hyde Park Art Center, as well as through exercises in writing grant proposals and press releases, he expects students to develop confidence and flexibility when it comes to writing about their own work in relation to the broader climate of discussion surrounding contemporary artistic practice.

“Just because your art is biographical does not mean you have to describe it using the pronoun ‘I,’” Foumberg said. “There’s an important and informative difference between saying ‘My art is about the war’s impact on my family’ and ‘Wars give birth to traumas that can be inherited inter-generationally.’ Part of the class will be focused on discovering how to write and speak about your art on this broader and more conceptual register.”

Adding to Foumberg’s discussion of his upcoming class, Nikki Yagoda, Assistant Director of External Engagement at the Graham School, noted that all the classes offered through the Visual Arts Certificate Program center on professionally developing oneself as an artist. Whether the class is Curating, in which students work towards producing a contemporary art exhibition, or Business, in which students create individualized action plans to achieve their goals, each of the four offerings that make up the certificate revolves around producing something real that matters.

“The assumption is that you’ve spent years working on your art and building your portfolio and that you come to the VACP in order to professionalize yourself as an artist,” Yagoda said. “With a suite of classes focusing on practical skills, such as building visibility and collaborating with other artists, the end goal extends beyond the classroom back into your practice as an artist, moving you towards your unique definition of what being a successful artist is.”

Find information about the Visual Arts Certificate.

Analytics student capstone presentation
Monday, April 10, 2017

The Best-in-Showcase prize at the University of Chicago Graham School Master of Science in Analytics Capstone Showcase on Saturday, March 11th, which took place at the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center, was won by Michael Band, Carlos Moya, and Chris Yacu for their project entitled “Dynamic Decision-Making and the Market for NFL Picks.” Supervised by Nick Kodochnikov and with Lander Analytics as their industry sponsor, the team’s project explored the market value of NFL draft picks, estimated the expected value of player performance as a function of draft order, and ultimately proposed a dynamic strategy to support trade negotiation in real-time. The team received the best-in-show prize of $5,000, which they can use towards attendance at analytics-related conferences.

“It was a great pleasure to see the many successful presentations at the Showcase Event,” said Sema Barlas, Director of the MScA program, as well as a member of the jury conferring the best-in-show prize with Angelo Mancini, Boris Zibitsker, and Benedict Augustine. “The jury felt that the winning presentation demonstrated superior competency in understanding their problem and in developing the analytics tools to provide a comprehensive solution.”

Receiving honorable mention for their projects were Ed Levinson, Matthew Myers, and Pacifique Niwenshuti for “RegTech: Improving Regulatory Compliance through Machine Learning,” as well as Suja Murali and Sneha Srinatha for “ - Consumer Profiling.” Nichole Urigashvili’s project, Shopper Fission: Segmenting Shoppers into Meaningful Groups,” was also singled out for special mention.

“It is a gratifying conclusion to nine months of hard work for Carlos, Chris, and me,” said Michael, who graduated from the MScA program this winter and is currently positioning himself for an analytics role with an NFL team. “It was a passion project for us and we became close friends while working on it. We received a lot of valuable advice along the way from our faculty advisor and our industry sponsor, as well as from all the MScA faculty who assisted us in modeling our data and bringing our project together.”

Michael pointed in particular to the challenge his team confronted while compiling their presentation for the Showcase, highlighting the valuable experience and insights the work brought them in the form of distilling a highly-specialized and knowledge-rich project for a particular audience.

“The most important thing is that you capture your audience’s attention,” he said. “Sema was instrumental in conveying the importance of that to us. For an MScA audience who might not be too familiar with the rules of NFL football, or if you’re presenting to a room of NFL execs who don’t know about data modeling or beta regressions, the key in both these cases is not to overwhelm your audience with information. You have to calibrate your presentation while still ensuring that you present your case clearly and forcefully.”

Adding to Michael’s point, Suja Murali pointed to the value of the Capstone Project in general as an important way to get real-world exposure to big data, with all the data cleaning and formatting such work involves. Her and Sneha Srinatha’s project, which was praised by the jury for its actionable results and the clarity of its methodological selection, sought to identify and predict customer segments for the Indianapolis-based HealthStatus, an online company whose mission is to enable people to track their health by providing interactive health risk tools and calculators.

“The capstone project is a great way to experience a true work environment and the unique challenges you’ll face there,” Suja said, who is presently deciding between three employment offers. “The assignments we complete in class are great for gaining familiarity with the different tools, but when it comes to starting from the ground and converting a messy business problem into a complex analytical solution, the Capstone Project provides MScA students with invaluable experience.”


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