Students like Ajay Jain embody what is so unique, important, and binding of students within the field of statistics. The Statistics and Computer Science student at the University of Illinois double majors in Political Science and has his sights set on giving a voice to underrepresented individuals through his work. A student who is passionate about their purpose with focus, drive, and determination to reach their goals is what make students like Jain leaders in their fields. Statistics and data science bring so many factors together to tell a story and it takes students like Jain to put the story together. Jain is a testament to the multiple ways statistics and data can pave a path to success, and that multiple paths are available to students. Merging subjects like statistics and political science is just one of many ways students can bridge their fields of interests together to accomplish their end goals. Where Jain is utilizing his studies in Statistics and Political Science to make his way in the world to hopefully give a voice to the voiceless, the possibilities for others to follow his path or strike out on their own is limitless.
What follows is a small sample of Ajay Jain’s story, comprised from a recent interview conducted by the Statistics @ Illinois Newsgroup.
Growing up in a multicultural household thirty-minutes west of Chicago in Elmhurst, Illinois, Ajay Jain has a unique perspective he is using to help change the world for the better. A senior on the verge of graduation, Jain is continuing his trajectory by holding an internship this summer with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services via the Coding it Forward fellowship program. Jain will be focusing on projects relating to COVID-19 and Medicare analytics and data pipelining while working with the Coding it Forward program. “Coding it Forward’s fellowship is an amazing summer opportunity that prepares students to be a part of a growing tech workforce promoting social change via internships at government agencies. The summer is loaded with networking opportunities and fellow-run events. Even though the fellowship is remote this summer, I’ve been able to participate in discussions on the intersection between gender bias and data analytics and race and technology while also being able to meet other fellows remotely and even share cooking tips and recipes. Students in the program go on to work for the US government or at other organizations promoting positive social change,” Jain enthusiastically says of the Coding it Forward program. “Coding it Forward’s fellowship application opens up in the winter, and I highly recommend that students who are looking to use their statistics and computer science backgrounds for highly impactful projects in the United States government to apply! Coding it Forward also has an amazing Facebook group where job and fellowship opportunities get posted often.”
Jain’s decision to use his technical skillset to help provide a voice to individuals who are unrepresented and to develop technology that cultivates social good came during high school. Volunteering at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Jain worked with demographically underrepresented individuals whom he was not necessarily accustomed to growing up in Elmhurst. At the museum, he was part of the Science Achiever program, which is a youth development program through the museum. There he worked with children from across the Chicagoland area teaching them about science and technology. “Noticing how even now a lot of my fellow alumni’s lives were positively impacted by the program, I felt that it gave a voice and an educational opportunity to people that normally do not have it. I want to do the same with my career,” Jain said.
Raised in an Italian and Indian mixed household where it was encouraged to speak openly and embrace cultural differences and issues, Jain was fortunate enough to have access to multiple perspectives on life, culture, and political issues. Inspired by politics and wanting to utilize his technical background for social good, Jain noticed how important statistics are to political campaigns and organizations. This is what prompted him to declare a double major in Political Science and merge his two interests together. “I think coming from a multicultural household influenced me and my desire to pursue politics. Indian and Italian culture have a lot of very similar values, but having multiple cultural backgrounds helped me better understand the thinking processes and opinions of many different people. I felt that I wanted to use that skill set that I obtained from being in a multicultural family so I could understand and help underrepresented individuals in society as well, which influenced me to think about a career in politics,” Jain on his influences.
Jain is not the only one looking to utilize technology and politics. In recent years, online bots have become notorious for infiltrating social media platforms to spread misinformation and just be a general nuisance. In 2018, while initially setting out to study Twitter mentions on each of the Illinois governor candidates, Jain noticed a higher trend of mentions for Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeanne Ives than any of the other candidates. Through his analysis after pulling the data, Jain discovered that Ives was receiving approximately 60 percent more mentions than then Illinois Governor, Bruce Rainer, and more than the total combined mentions of the three Democratic candidates. After running the data, Jain was able to determine that most of the mentions for Ives were coming specifically from bots intended to spread misinformation in the form of memes and alt-right websites. Jain’s analysis and research again uncovered bots and propaganda accounts on Twitter supporting Erin Cruz, a fringe Republican candidate for the California Senate. Jain has published his findings and follow up research on his Medium page where he publishes a variety of articles he has written.
Currently not working on further bot detection analysis, Jain has focused his attention on getting involved with political campaigns after graduation and his summer internship. Hoping to work on either Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign or a Democratic senate race this fall, Jain already has some working experience to better suit him for the world of politics. In 2019, Jain held a Congressional Intern position for Congressman, Raja Krishnamoorthi in the U.S. House of Representatives. Congressman Krishnamoorthi’s district covers parts of Jain’s hometown of Elmhurst, Illinois. While working on Capitol Hill for the Congressman, Jain saw firsthand how the policy making process worked. From writing memos for the Congressman, taking phone calls from constituents, and giving tours of the Capitol, Jain’s internship with the Congressman gave him a lifetime of memories. Some such memories include waiting outside of the House of Representatives chamber while countless Representatives walk by, sharing the Senate Subway and walking through the Cannon Tunnel with politicians from all over the country, and once even sharing an elevator with civil rights leader, Congressman Jon Lewis.
In his free time, Jain not only runs analysis and creates data visualizations on various data points, but also is a globetrotting traveler and avid chef. One of his latest analysis involved creating a fictitious airline and determining how often and where he has flown to during his lifetime. According to his analysis, he has determined that he has traveled through fifty-four airports, on four continents, to dozens of countries. “My favorite place to visit has to definitely be Italy! The cities are wonderful and have a lot of rich history and amazing food. The most undervalued part of Italy is Molise, a province in southern Italy. Nothing compares to Molise’s rolling, luscious hills, clean air, and fresh cavatelli pasta. That part of Italy is very relaxing too since you will not find many tourists there, so you get a unique and authentic Italian experience,” Jain, on his favorite place to travel.
Being a world traveler with his heritage deeply rooted in Indian and Italian culture, one of Jain’s other hobbies include cooking exquisite dishes influenced from across the globe. Though it is something he does on the side, Jain has created a website to chronicle his cooking journey where he posts original recipes and other dishes he has put together. “Although cooking is something that I currently do as a side hobby, I would really like to turn it into an opportunity where I could livestream cooking, give cooking advice, and demonstrate how cooking can be fun. Experiencing different cultures inspires my cooking the most; it’s why I’m also a big traveler!” Jain’s cooking journal is located at www.ajaycooks.com.
With his time at the University of Illinois close to an end for now, Jain will always carry the memories with him on the rest of his journey. From hanging out in the Undergraduate Library, walking the Quad and joking with friends, to rubbing Lincoln’s nose, these shared experiences that mostly all students knowingly or unknowingly have in common bind them together as Illini. Ajay Jain is forging his path and his story is still being written, and with confidence, his will be one to follow.
The Department of Statistics is fortunate to have students like Ajay Jain and we look forward to seeing where his journey takes him. Students like Jain are what makes the department great and the University of Illinois as a whole benefits from students like him. Students interested in telling their story should contact the Statistics @ Illinois News Group at firstname.lastname@example.org.