The MSA Program is ‘In-Tents’


As the title suggests, the MSA program is intense. There are projects, homeworks, and real-world practicum projects. Every aspect of the program is focused on “developing the world’s best data professionals,” as Dr. Rappa likes to say. However, this article isn’t about the program being intense, but rather it is about taking a break from the intensity, embarking on a journey, and ending up in tents.


In the middle of Fall Module II, 14 adventurous students embarked on a journey to summit the highest peak east of the Mississippi: Mount Mitchell. Along the way to South Toe, North Carolina, stories were shared, naps were taken, and many songs were sung. Upon arrival at our campsite at Black Mountain Campground, we quickly set up tents and embarked on our trip to the summit of Mount Mitchell.

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The 5.6 mile hike challenged us as we faced exposed rock faces, uneven trails, and a 3600 foot climb to the summit. To put this climb into perspective, it amounts to climbing the Empire State Building roughly three times.

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Even in the middle of the woods, we focused on applying what we’ve learned at the IAA by taking the perfect selfie, looking for that “hail-mary” shot, and following the rule of thirds.

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Eventually, we reached the summit of Mt. Mitchell and reveled in the picturesque, panoramic views of the mountain range and the Pisgah National Forest.


After the hike, we headed back to basecamp to build a fire and make dinner. We quickly learned that our data science training did not aid us in building a fire. In fact, five of us tried, and eventually a non-IAA student helped us build our fire.

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That night around the campfire, we reminisced about the day’s events and quickly learned the importance of developing these relationships outside of classes. We are all aware that this program is short, and for most of us that was a driving factor in our decision to attend the IAA. However, as we rapidly approach the midpoint of the program, the time we have together will become even more valuable. Embarking on this trip, telling our stories, and developing these memories will keep us bonded long after the program is over.



Columnist: David Jordan