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Betsy Podkowa ('17) - Senior Data Scientist, State Farm

I came to UIUC after receiving my BS in Mathematics from Bradley University ('16). At the time I wasn't completely sure what I wanted to do, but I have always appreciated data and found that my Statistics courses were consistently my favorites so I decided to work towards my Masters in Statistics. UIUC offered interesting coursework and its collaboration with State Farm provided a unique real-world experience through State Farm's MAGNet program. The two paired quite nicely. Sometimes my coursework provided foundational skills such as learning different programming languages or basics in modeling techniques which were then reinforced in my MAGNet projects. Other times the reverse was true - I would be exposed to something through my internship which would later show up in my coursework. Not only did this give me a leg up in class, but it allowed me to grasp a better understanding of the concept as a whole when reviewing it the second time.

The MAGNet program provided me with exposure to various departments at State Farm as well as the different types of projects and opportunities within the realm of Statistics and the overall professional climate of the company from an employee standpoint. Furthermore, it allowed me to develop my soft skills such as collaborating with technical and non-technical business partners in both formal and informal settings. For instance, presentations at the end of each semester also offered further experience to fine-tune creating visualizations and verbally reporting results to a broad community of individuals.

Following my UIUC Statistics coursework and MAGNet projects, it was easy deciding where to start my career. After graduation ('17), I happily continued on as a full-time Statistician for State Farm. Over the past 3 years I have had the pleasure of working with several different groups and taking on different roles. Most recently, I have been promoted to a Senior Data Scientist as part of the Natural Language Processing Center of Excellence. As part of my job, I work with a variety of open source and vendor tools to automate analysis of text, extracting valuable information to assist the business with its efforts such as increasing efficiency and improving customer service.

As 2020 proved to be a time with such uncertainty, job security and working remotely have become even more important, so I am extremely thankful for where my education and career have led me. As a data scientist it is fairly easy to keep up with work demands from home and State Farm has been gracious enough to allow me to do so until it is safe to reenter the building. I look forward to continuing down the path that UIUC and State Farm started me on and encourage others to seek similar opportunities for them as well.

'17 - M.S. Statistics