Teacher and student looking at computer

Penn State Great Valley houses big data lab for real-time analysis and research

Engineering professors Adrian Barb and Robin Qiu can monitor what’s being tweeted across the world in real time.

By: Elizabeth Palmer

On the bottom floor of Penn State Great Valley’s main building, engineering professors Adrian Barb and Robin Qiu can monitor what’s being tweeted across the world in real time. That's because Barb and Qiu created Penn State Great Valley’s own big data lab, which provides students and local industries with access to a variety of tools and systems.

Most recently, Barb and Qiu used a tool called Visualizing Public Opinions to score tweets about 2016 presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump. Visualizing Public Opinions tracks tweets worldwide and immediately provides a sentiment analysis of the international dialogue. Depending on positive or negative content, the tweets are scored from one to negative one. Using this data, the system charts the percentage of positive tweets by time and candidate — showing analysts how attitudes can change due to a candidate’s behavior or actions. Barb and Qiu can use this tool to archive tweets and instantly evaluate the general public’s feelings at any given time. The number of industries or products to which this can be applied are limitless.

Penn State Great Valley’s big data lab is a huge asset to the campus. New for fall 2016 is the on-campus data analytics master’s degree program where graduate students can design, implement, and apply data analysis techniques to engineering and business domains. What’s unique about Penn State Great Valley’s program is the two-fold student experience. Not only will graduate students learn about the lifecycle of big data systems and how to use the equipment, but they will also have hands-on time with the systems and be able to conduct their own research. Students in the campus’ software engineering, information science and systems engineering programs will also have access to the lab.

Barb and Qiu’s work with Visualizing Public Opinions applies to the local community, too. Since the data lab’s tools can provide real-time analysis, local businesses can partner with Penn State Great Valley to obtain feedback about their products or services. No longer will organizations have to wait to survey customer feedback — they can receive targeted data to analyze immediately.

Big data and analysis are growing exponentially in today’s business practices, creating many job openings for individuals with relevant backgrounds. Glassdoor, an online jobs and recruiting marketplace, named data scientist as the best job in America in 2016. Penn State Great Valley’s big data lab and the data analytics master’s degree program bring the resources of one the nation’s leading research universities to the greater Philadelphia area to benefit students and local businesses alike. These opportunities will create community partnerships and give students practical knowledge and hands-on experience to an emerging career field.