Get To Know ETR: David Manuel Torres, Research Assistant

Get To Know ETR: David Manuel Torres, Research Assistant

By ETR | August 21, 2019
 

David Torres is one of ETR’s great data wranglers. This means he spends a lot of his time making sure the raw data collected on his projects is clean and consistent before running analyses on it. “That’s actually about 80% of my work on a project,” he explains. “The analysis is the fun part, but the cleaning is the most important. If you start with inaccurate data, you get inaccurate interpretations.”

It doesn’t take long to discover that David loves working with data. He can imagine pursuing graduate work in statistics at some point, but he’s got a lot of other interests as well. He likes hiking and bicycling around the beautiful open spaces in Santa Cruz, where he lives. He enjoys gardening—“the wonder of watching a plant grow from a tiny seed into something big and healthy, and knowing I had a role in making that happen. It’s therapeutic!”

He’s also a movie fan, with a special appreciation for the horror genre. “I like movies like The Conjuring, or Sinister, or Hereditary,” he says. “One of my favorites TV shows is Black Mirror, which is kind of a blend of horror and sci-fi.” A recurring question in Black Mirror is, “Where should we draw the line when it comes to technological advancement?”

“It’s an interesting question for me,” David comments, “because I actually spend a lot of my time working to get people more engaged in the tech world, and specifically in computer science learning, so seeing the hypothetical consequences of that gives me greater perspective.”

Working On Equity & Inclusion in STEM

David is deeply committed to the work he does as part of ETR’s Equity & Inclusion in STEM team. “Our work focuses on finding out more about under-represented groups in terms of how they enjoy STEM fields—or, in some cases, why they don’t like them. What puts some of these young people off? What is their mental image of what a computer scientist is like?

“Our goal is to encourage young people from under-represented groups—especially Latinx youth in the work I’m doing—to see the possibilities of becoming computer scientists and tech people themselves. We want them to know they can do this, even if they don’t have a family member in the tech field who can guide them along, even if they haven’t seen a lot of programmers or tech people who look like them or have similar experiences.”

At ETR, we appreciate the skillful way David travels between total data wonkiness and making the data easy-to-read and digest for non-data types. “We collect data for a purpose,” he states. “People will be choosing priorities and developing interventions based on that data. It’s important to make the outcomes clear for people in these roles who are not data experts.”

Inspiration is Powerful

It takes care, determination and perseverance to do this kind of work as well as David does. He credits his mother with a lot of the inspiration that has helped him build these qualities. “My mom came to the U.S. as a young woman—an immigrant from Guatemala. She’d had very little schooling there, so when she arrived she had to teach herself to read and write in Spanish. Seeing her struggle in life and persevere through hardships has been a big inspiration for me. She raised six kids, and still helps my sisters with their kids. She’s so strong—she’s taught me that lots of things are possible if you persevere and try.”

David’s commitment to equity in STEM shines through all of his work. Take a look at this award-winning video he helped create about one of his projects—the first ever Spanish Family Code Night. Or this blog post, where he describes ways he worked with our partners at Digital NEST to make data we collected more accessible and useful for frontline staff. Or this post, where he describes how he spent a weekend of personal time to develop a program to parse and analyze behavioral data. This ultimately saved staff hundreds of hours of time doing some of the most tedious data wrangling imaginable.

David was paid for that effort after the fact, but the truth is he would have just given the program to his project because he likes solving these kinds of challenges, and he wanted to lighten the burden on his co-workers.

We thank David for his commitment, his insight and his vision. ETR is truly fortunate to have him contributing to our work and our mission.

 

David Manuel Torres is a Research Assistant at ETR. You can find his staff biography on ETR’s webpage here. He can be reached at david.torres@etr.org.

 

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