ENABLE boot camp introduces undergraduates to opportunities in biomedical and health informatics

July 30, 2019

Nine undergraduates spent seven weeks on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus this summer, learning about the emerging field of biomedical and health informatics (BMHI). The 2019 Health Informatics Data Analytics and Visualization (HiDAV) boot camp offered students hands-on experience with text mining, data mining, data visualization, classification algorithms, and applications such as Jupyter Notebook. Guest lectures from industry professionals and field trips to RTI, Optum Health Technology, RENCI, SAS, and UNC’s Lineberger Cancer Center demonstrated how these concepts are currently shaping research and medicine.

“Actually seeing how it'll be applied to the real world is really great for me the,” said Zipporah Melton, a rising junior at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C.A&T). “The professors who helped us with the courses, teaching us data mining and text mining, were great and they helped me to really get a better exposure to something I knew nothing about.”

The HiDAV boot camp is part of ENABLE, an initiative launched by the Carolina Health Informatics Program (CHIP) in 2018 with the support of a $1.6 million grant from the United Health Foundation. With additional funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), ENABLE covers the cost of housing and meals for the seven-week residential camp and awards selected students a scholarship stipend.

ENABLE is also developing an online master’s program and other tools to expand access to career opportunities in BMHI, particularly for students and professionals from populations that are underrepresented in science and technology fields. The nine participants in this summer’s boot camp represented four Historically Black College and Universities: N.C.A&T, North Carolina Central University, Bennett College, and the Morehouse School of Medicine.

“We created the program mainly to provide a way of attracting students that otherwise may not consider health informatics as a potential career pathway,” said Professor Javed Mostafa, Director of CHIP and ENABLE. “Because it's a relatively new area, an emerging area, not many universities have programs in that field.”  

Even if boot camp participants ultimately choose not to pursue a career in BMHI, Mostafa said “the types of knowledge that they gain from learning about data science and visualization and interface design is likely to be helpful in other contexts and other disciplines as well.”

Anjali Kumari, a rising sophomore at N.C. A&T, believes what she learned during the boot camp will help with her future plans to become a surgical oncologist.

“I know that when I enter the medical field, I'll be able to look at data sets and make like inferences about what my patients might be going through and what kind of personalized treatments they need,” she said.

Going forward, Mostafa said ENABLE will be investigating other avenues to introduce undergraduate students to BMHI and collaborating with other universities to share what they’ve learned from two summers of the HiDAV boot camp.

“One of our mandates in being the flagship state university is to have as broad a footprint as we can in the state, the nation, and the world in terms of showing that we have many ways to train and teach and educate, and reach out and connect with students,” Mostafa said. “This is one of the small ways that we’re demonstrating that.”

Watch the video below, then click here for extended interviews with HiDAV boot camp students and instructors.