The Classroom Shuffle

How the class led to the project that led to the internship that led to the job offer.

Tomorrow’s leaders and innovators are found in Bucknell classrooms today. Through hands-on, project-based learning opportunities, Bucknell faculty — like Professor Sam Gutekunst, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Assistant Professor of Data Science — help students connect the dots between what they learn in class and the world they inhabit, and put their knowledge to work in making that world better.

Impressed by the initiative Thomas Smith ’23 (left) and Jake Luther ’23 (right) showed in his classroom, Gutekunst invited both computer engineering majors to participate in a research project aimed at helping Bucknell’s Registrar’s Office improve class scheduling. “Jake and Thomas stood out for their incredible intellectual curiosity and potential, so I was elated to get them on a project,” Gutekunst says.

“Every year the registrar has to figure out how many sections of each course to offer,” Luther says. “They look at past years’ enrollment to determine what they’re going to offer in the upcoming academic year. But they have to do it before they get acceptances from students. They don’t know how many incoming first-years there are going to be, and they don’t know their intended majors.”

Under Gutekunst’s guidance, the pair applied machine learning and data analytics to enrollment numbers from the past 12 years. They designed methods that can more accurately predict course enrollment, and began to look at techniques to help the Registrar’s Office in making other decisions (like when to schedule final exams).

“One of the coolest parts of data science at Bucknell is that it can empower students to work with institutional data and make a real impact on campus,” says Gutekunst of the project. “Jake and Thomas were the proof-of-concept for this. They discovered interesting, actionable trends and found compelling stories in the data.”

The experience did more than just sharpen Smith and Luther’s data-science skills and help Bucknell. The students leveraged the research project to land internships — Luther with Deloitte and Smith with Lockheed Martin. Impressed by their work, both firms extended job offers to Smith and Luther for after they graduate in May.

Months before they will put on a cap and gown, Luther and Smith have confidence in their next steps. They recognize it’s thanks to their Bucknell education — and Gutekunst’s mentorship. “I have an excellent foundation.” Luther says.

“I wouldn’t have that without Sam’s interest in my success.”