IAC Grad Combines Passion for Data Science and International Affairs

Posted April 29, 2024

Classrooms are critical learning environments in college, but experiences outside of them can be just as impactful. Just ask Tyler Quillen, who found his passion for data visualization — a skill typically associated with STEM disciplines — through his research assistantship at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs. 

Quillen will complete his B.S. in International Affairs this spring and said participating in the inaugural cohort of the GTDC: Pathways to Policy program in Washington also helped solidify his aspirations to work in data visualization after graduation.

"Going into college, I had no idea what I wanted to do," Quillen said. “Coming to Tech and working as a researcher showed me my interest in data science, which I had never had exposure to previously. And that was further reinforced going to D.C., where it was such a great experience working on deeper data science and getting to see what it's really like to be in my field."

Merging STEM and Humanities

How exactly does data science tie into the liberal arts, and why is it such a critical skill for success?

"It's how you communicate to people," Quillen said. "People are often visual learners, so being able to show a piece of data concisely and how it's changed over time is a huge part of communicating to people on a variety of issues. It's a skill I really value having and is critical for informing people of the point of the research."

During the Pathways to Policy program, Quillen and his classmates worked full-time while taking classes at night. The internships vary based on interest, and Quillen split his time between two organizations at the National Defense University, conducting research at the College of International Security Affairs and creating data visualizations at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. The visualizations he worked on used economic, societal, and political data to help the organization track trends in the region and inform where they could best focus and direct their work in the future. 

Quillen says international affairs is an “often misunderstood” field, so communicating data is an essential part of making an impact.

"The average American voter votes primarily on domestic issues and doesn't pay attention to many international issues. I'm biased because I'm an international affairs major, but I think that's a shame," Quillen said. "Creating good data visualizations is a huge part of informing the public about various issues and is why I respect the Center for Strategic International Studies. They do a great job of making interactive data displays to inform the average person about issues in international affairs and show that information in a way that's easy for anybody to understand."

Turning Passion Into a Career

The aptly named GTDC: Pathways to Policy emphasizes just that — that there are many different ways to have an impact and create change in the policy sphere. Quillen's research journey at Georgia Tech and semester in Washington helped him discover a unique interdisciplinary passion for data visualization and international affairs that he will take into his career.

After graduation, Quillen wants to move back to Washington and land a full-time job at the Center for Strategic International Studies, something he hopes the alumni networking and internship experiences on the GTDC program will help him achieve. 

"I never would have known about this without doing the research at Tech, and then it's just been further reinforced over time as I've gotten more experiences and exposure to the field," Quillen said. “I feel very lucky that I had the opportunities that I did to get exposed to all this."

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Di Minardi

Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts