Stella Tomasi hopes to bring STEM to those who didn’t know they needed it

By Kyle Hobstetter on May 9, 2022

Business analytics and technology management faculty member inspired to make business analytics more accessible to TU community

Dr. Stella Tomasi in her classroom
Stella Tomasi, a professor in the Department of Business Analytics & Technology Management, has been working to make STEM careers more accessible to those on and off Towson University's campus. (Lauren Castellana / Towson University) 

When Stella Tomasi moved to the United States from India at the age of five, her parents had big dreams for her and her brothers.

“The reason we moved to America was for our education,” she says. “If we would have stayed in India, because I’m a girl, I probably wouldn’t have had a chance at all these education opportunities.”

Thanks to her parents’ efforts, she found a passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Initially she began her career as a chemist, but the early 2000s information technology boom led her to the world of business analytics.

As a woman and a person of color, Tomasi is part of two underrepresented groups in the STEM community. As she has become one of area’s leading experts in business analytics, Tomasi has been working to bring more underrepresented groups into STEM fields.

“Research has shown that by the eighth grade, if a student has a bad experience with STEM, they’re not going to go into it,” Tomasi says. “And nine out of 10 times, teachers don’t have a fun, creative way to share [STEM concepts]. My goal is not only to provide my students with unique research projects but also provide tools for younger generations.”

She has volunteered with Girls in Technology, a nonprofit that helps middle- and high-school-aged girls learn more about careers in STEM.

Last year, she put on a workshop in Python programming (a high-level, interpreted, general-purpose programming language) for 50 girls located in the Delaware–Maryland–Virginia area. And this year Tomasi hosted an event with the National Air and Space Museum that included guest speakers from NASA.

“There are so many opportunities to get involved in STEM but only a select few know about them,” she says. “Every time we do one of these sessions, we mentor these young girls and let them know about these programs.”

When Tomasi joined the Department of Business Analytics & Technology Management in 2010, she was the first woman to join the department on a tenure track. The program is also the first undergrad program in the College of Business & Economics to be STEM designated.

Tomasi has worked to make business analytics more accessible to students across the TU community.

Through CBE, she developed the business analytics minor, which allows all TU students to learn how research and data can help in making decisions.

“In the past, people that were making decisions were doing it based off experience and gut feelings,” Tomasi says. “Now, you’re helping to make decisions on what historically the data is telling us.”

Along with creating a minor, she is partnering on a multidisciplinary research project to inspire Towson University student-athletes to seek out STEM opportunities.

Through a partnership with Justin Lima, TU football’s director of performance, and Lisa Custer, an associate professor in the kinesiology department, Tomasi is researching the effects of variables on athlete performance.

According to Tomasi, previous studies have shown that NCAA student-athletes do not choose STEM-related majors. Through a grant from the School of Emerging Technology, she is hoping that using sports as a context may help student-athletes learn about STEM majors in a fun and exciting way—even if it means meeting with the student-athletes around seven in the morning most days.

“During their session, we’ll look at the insights and see which variables are affecting their performance,” Tomasi says. “And as they’re looking at the data, they’ll tell me how cool this is. Our goal is for them to look at this data, make better decisions about themselves and maybe want to do this as a career.”

Participants of the 2022 Data Analytics Competition
Tomasi also created the Data Analytics Competitions, which had its third annual competitions this past fall and was sponsored by the Baltimore Ravens. (Alex Wright / Towson University) 

She also created the Data Analytics Competition, which in its third year and draws students from across campus. When she first presented the idea., Tomasi wanted to provide not only a unique competition, but also scholarships to students interested in data analytics.

This year’s competition was sponsored by the Baltimore Ravens and attracted 135 students across five TU colleges, a 70% increase from last year.

Cody Williams, director of business intelligence for the Ravens, developed the case based on a dataset of Ravens’ merchandise and apparel sales over the past three years. Teams were tasked with deriving insights from data analysis and pitching ideas on how to drive other opportunities for local revenue.

On April 22, the final 10 teams gave their presentations, with the top three selected based on the creativity and utility of data visualization, the clarity and quality of analysis and storytelling, and the originality of recommendations.

This year’s winners were announced and come from a wide array of backgrounds. Astrid Nina, a CBE student double majoring in Business Systems and Processes (BSAP) and Project Management, who won the first place $2,500 scholarship. Brittney Workman, a graduate student in Experimental Psychology (CLA), took second prize scholarship of $1,500. Julia O’Connell (Art + Design - COFAC), Leah Sine (Mathematics Economics - CBE), and Haja Sannoh (Economics / Political Science – CBE/CLA) picked up the third prize $1,000 scholarship.

“This competition is a free, fun way to get as many people interested in business analytics in an informal way as possible,” Tomasi says. “This competition lets them get experience, not just in the field but working with real-life companies.”