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Faces of UMSI: Rachell Calhoun

Rachell Calhoun

Rachell Calhoun wants to develop software that will help healthcare providers practice more inclusive data science.

MADS student Rachell Calhoun began her journey as a data scientist by teaching herself how to code using MOOCs. Now, as a software developer in the healthcare industry, she wants to help healthcare providers practice more inclusive data science. 

Calhoun, of Kalamazoo, MI, didn’t factor data science into her initial career goals. After graduating with a BA in Spanish and French from Western Michigan University, she moved to Seoul, Korea, where she started teaching herself Python as a hobby. 

“By the time I moved back to the U.S., I was proficient enough to change careers,” said Calhoun. “I’m currently a software developer for a medical device company.”

An experienced online learner, Calhoun discovered the MADS program through U-M’s MOOCs on Coursera. 

“When I was learning to program, I used a lot of resources, including communities like PyLadies and Django Girls, as well as a number of the MOOCs U-M offers on Coursera, which added me to a mailing list,” said Calhoun. “They sent information about the MADS program directly to me.” 

She enrolled in the program to become a better advocate for patients from marginalized communities. 

“I was particularly drawn to the MADS program because of its support of non-traditional applicants and its focus on diversity and intersectionality,” said Calhoun. 

“In the long run, I hope to leverage this knowledge and experience into amplifying the voices and concerns of underserved populations that are traditionally excluded from or marginalized by those algorithms healthcare providers use to aid in decision making, as well as facilitate community organization around the practice of more inclusive data science. 

“Also, since I taught myself programming via MOOCs and now work remotely as a software developer, it was a natural choice for me to enroll in a fully online program.” 

Calhoun, who has also used FutureLearn, Edx and Khan Academy to access data science courses, said the MADS program is more challenging, thorough and rigorous than other online courses she has taken ⁠— and its supportive and friendly community sets it apart as well. 

“I love how responsive and understanding the staff, professors and other students are in the program,” Calhoun said. “They go above and beyond to make sure all the students are taken care of.

“Because there are new courses and professors each month, things really move fast, which I find keeps me energized and motivated. I have been enjoying the variety of courses. … As I’m coming into this program with a background in teaching and development, I’m excited to work on looking at things from more of a global business perspective.” 

As community organizer for local Django Girls and PyLadies chapters, Calhoun said she is  excited to bring more applied data science to these communities. 

She said she’s also been able to connect in person with local peers since she’s located only a few hours from U-M’s Ann Arbor campus. 

“Meeting in person really gave me a sense of camaraderie and support,” said Calhoun. 

In addition to being a data scientist, Rachell Calhoun is also a martial artist and a salsera.