As the first Black female to graduate from Belmont’s data science program, Miracle Awonuga has big dreams about how to use her data skills to change the world.
The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Miracle grew up in the vibrant Antioch area outside of Nashville where the importance of community was embedded into every part of her life. Inspired by her mom’s influence in the community, Miracle knew from a young age that she, too, wanted to be a woman who gave back. But, she wasn’t sure how to be that community builder, until she got to Belmont.
In the seventh grade, Miracle discovered her love and talent for computer science and dove in headfirst, thanks to encouragement from Katie Marshall, her mentor and global literacy teacher at Nashville Prep. People began to know Miracle for her passion, talent and achievement in the field. “I was everyone’s favorite computer scientist,” she said. “I was the one everyone went to for help or for advice and guidance, which felt really good. Again, I love being there for my community, and that’s how I built community at the time.”
But, she explained, she leaned in too far before she had a chance to step back and think about what she was actually meant to pursue. “I felt like my only purpose was, not to change lives, but to make them function,” Miracle said. “I didn’t know I could do both.”
When Miracle arrived at Belmont in 2020 to start her computer science degree, she recalls going through a hard time – feeling isolated and sad while starting college during COVID and attempting to narrow down and to focus in on that purpose.
She began an on-campus job with the Belmont USA program, using her strong computer science skills to create databases for students to find internships. “I just love being able to figure out how to make data more accessible to people in a captivating way,” she said. “I also thought about how much I love marketing and storytelling, and something clicked.”
Meeting Dr. Christina Davis, assistant professor and director of Belmont’s new data science program, would completely change Miracle’s trajectory. Davis explained that data scientists are given a bunch of scrap pieces of data, and their job is to step back and find a way to put those pieces together in a way that is both coherent and useful to try and make the world a better place.
With that, Miracle discovered how data science would allow her to use her gifts of creativity, advocacy and connection in a cohesive way for the greater good. With a love for analytics and the stories those numbers tell, Miracle listened to her gut and made the decision to switch her major to data science.
“Representation really matters. I knew I had a place in data science, but being able to see another female data scientist doing so well in the field made me believe it,” Miracle said. “Dr. Davis helped me realize I was on the right track and that I had someone to support me, both in the classroom as a professor and outside of the classroom as a mentor. She’s become one of the most important people in my life.”
From then, Miracle said the opportunities and connections have continued flowing in.
Miracle serves on the executive board of Belmont’s Black Student Association, Women in Science and Women in Entertainment student organizations on campus. She is also part of the African student organization and works closely with the Office of Leadership Development.
Being a part of all these communities has allowed her to better understand other people and shape her own world view. The tight-knit Belmont community has helped her lean into the intersectionality of her interests, her identities and her ability to leverage it all to create change through her work. Miracle’s future plans include a master’s degree in data science and pursuing projects in education policy and digital media.
“She’s always made the things she is super passionate about super clear – her family, education and media productions. And Miracle has always made the person on the other end of the project the most important thing,” said Davis. “That’s what is special about Miracle and our data science program. We really want to focus on the individuals who are affected by what we are doing and make sure that we are doing it in a positive way.”
While at Belmont, Miracle has participated in various opportunities that have fueled her excitement about her future as a data scientist. This includes:
- Her statistical modeling project, which predicted test scores in underrepresented populations in Tennessee and explored how to improve the success of underrepresented groups on standardized tests;
- her culminating senior project “Oh, To Be a Scholar,” an interactive data research exhibit exploring if the type of school someone attends affects their ability to be a college-bound scholar —which taught her to use her data skills “in extraordinary ways;”
- and the opportunity to be part of the inaugural cohort of the year-long Thrive TN Fellowship through the Education Trust in Tennessee, exploring barriers that prevent historically underrepresented populations from pursuing post-secondary opportunities, which gave her the chance to learn about the intersection of data science and advocacy.
As Miracle fine tunes her data science philosophy – looking at data in bigger, unconventional ways—her goal is to use data to empower others, especially students of color. “I want to use data to not only lift us up and make us believe in ourselves, but also have others learn about the actual people behind the numbers they see,” she said.
She understands now how she can be the community builder she has always wanted to be.
“Being the first Black woman to graduate from Belmont’s data science program means the world and more to me. It is an honor that I am the one that gets to show other Black and Brown women considering data science that they can accomplish their wildest dreams; that it’s important for them to take up space and fight to have their voices amplified,” Miracle said.
“For me, it has proved that the sky is no longer the limit – it’s what we stand on.”