Alex Han and Zachre Andrews, both juniors majoring in statistics at Rice University, have founded a non-profit company aimed at aiding other non-profits using the tools of data science.
“We’re interested in telling a story with numbers. Our goal is to look at the data, draw conclusions from it, share it with the non-profits and suggest ways they can go about their business more efficiently,” Andrews said.
Founded by the pair last year, Biokind Analytics is a 501(c)(3) non-profit based in Houston, with chapters at seven other American universities, including Brown, Rutgers, Emory and the University of Virginia. In the words of the company’s website, they are “Channeling the power of data science in healthcare.” Han, Andrews and their collaborators, including some 20 other students at Rice, have analyzed more than $100 million in combined donations for nonprofits around the U.S.
Han was born to Korean parents in Philadelphia and moved to Korea with his family at age two. Because of his father’s job, he later lived in San Diego, Indonesia, and Seoul. As a boy, Han listened to the stories his great-grandmother, who lived to the age of 96, told him about the Korean War. Then she stopped.
“Later I learned she had Alzheimer’s disease. I didn’t know what that meant when I was little, only that she stopped telling me stories,” said Han, explaining the origin of his interest in health and medicine. He considered pre-med as a major at Rice before selecting STAT.
While still a high school student in Korea, Han learned that the smell of peanut butter could be used to test the olfactory sense in the hemispheres of the brain. Inability to smell it suggested an issue in the left hemisphere and was thought to be a predictor for Alzheimer’s disease. That conclusion was later partially discredited but Han remained interested in the disorder and began volunteering at Alzheimer’s Los Angeles, translating brochures into Korean.
For almost two years, Han has worked in the lab of Dr. Huda Zoghbi, a geneticist at Baylor College of Medicine. He and Andrews met in their sophomore year in STAT 405, “R for Data Science.”
“We discovered that we have similar interests,” said Andrews, who has a minor in data science. “We like looking at data and revealing the useful information it contains. It’s like solving a mystery.”
Both students devote roughly 12 to 15 hours a week to Biokind Analytics, on top of their studies. “I do it as a sort of hobby,” Han said. “It’s relaxing.”
Han, who is also majoring in biochemistry, has shifted his goals yet again. He recently took his MCAT -- Medical College Admission Test – and hopes to become a doctor.
“My interest is still in Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “I hope to approach it from another direction.” Han added, “We’re making plans so Biokind will continue after we have left Rice. The work we’re doing is important.”