Dr. Kristen Sosulski is a Clinical Associate Professor of Information, Operations & Management Sciences in the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University, where she teaches MBA students and executives data visualization, computer programming and business analytics. She is also the Director for the Learning Science Lab for NYU Stern, where she develops immersive face-to-face and online learning experiences to advance business school education.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Hello Kristen, first thank you for agreeing to speak to the Stern Oppy!
I know we’re amid finals and it is a busy time for students and professors alike, so I appreciate you making the time for us today.
Can I ask you to quickly introduce yourself with a brief introduction about where you’re from and what you teach at NYU?
So a little bit about me … I grew up on the East Coast. I have lived in the city since I was 17 and came to NYU Stern for my undergrad. I currently live on the Lower Eastside, but I’m a Jersey girl at heart. I completed my doctorate at Columbia University. Currently, I am a Clinical Associate Professor at NYU Stern and the Executive Director of the Learning Science Lab. I teach Data Visualization and foundational programming courses in Python and SQL. I also teach a couple of experiential courses in Operations Management.
Could you tell us a little about your career before coming to Stern and how did you end up here?
My work lies at the intersection of technology, data, business, and education, and what ties everything together is my passion for design. The design of information, design of data visualizations, design of learning, design of data, design of applications, and the design of processes.
During that time, I had the opportunity to be part of or lead a few academic centers within universities, namely Columbia and NYU, and they became my playgrounds to design learning experiences using technology. I gravitated around the purposeful use of technology for teaching and learning.
To start from the beginning, I did my formal training in IInformation Systems & Management at NYU Stern, and then later my doctoral work in Learning Sciences & Educational Technology at Columbia. I was surrounded by like-minded individuals who also shared the same passion as me.
I am the Executive Director of the Learning Science Lab at Stern, where I get to build teams and continue to design these learning experiences together with people who share a passion for learning. The professor side of me began when I was 23 and I taught my first course at Columbia, in Java Programming, of all things! I fell in love with teaching and liked the whole process of designing a memorable experience for students.
In between all of that, I consult to keep my skills sharp and grow my connections to business in the tech industry. In 2005, I started full-time teaching at NYU, and I was also asked to lead a new program at the time called NYU Online, and it was the first undergraduate degree program at NYU and it was an amazing opportunity to be on the front lines of online learning. I ended up becoming the founding director of the Office of Distance Learning and went on to become an Assistant Dean. A colleague from Stern contacted me after seeing my book “Essentials of Online Course Design” and asked me if I would apply for the position at Stern to lead what is now the Learning Science Lab. This was the opportunity for me to return home and here I am today!
Wow! It is interesting how as you know you started as an undergrad at Stern, and later returned not only in just a teaching position but also as part of the school leadership! You had mentioned that you did consulting work, what types of problems are you typically asked to address?
They are always design problems, and questions like “how do I design interaction in an online course? How do I design for discussion or engagement?” On the business side, the questions are more centered on data, analytics, and the effective use of data visualization.
What industries or types of businesses have reached out for consulting work?
Institutions of higher learning and other non-profits, in addition to firms in the healthcare industry, are fairly advanced in terms of their use of analytics and data.
I know you’ve written several books, what inspired you to start writing books about data visualizations?
When I started teaching visualization in 2012 at Stern, there were very few women featured in this field. I knew that there were more voices out there and more people who use visualization as part of their daily work. I wanted to feature those individuals; I wanted to write a book that featured a diverse group of professionals that showcase their visualization practices and explained the value add. That was the motivation for the book. I’ve compiled case studies and interviews and visions from people from across industries higher education, politics, tech, and gaming to provide this contemporary view of how data graphics are used in the field. These are real case studies that I felt illustrated and represented the population of people who use visualization in their practice, much more than just a single book by a single author.
Was there anything or something that you learned in the process of writing your books that you would like to share?
I learned that I shouldn’t have used my maternity leave to write a book. But really, I learned that I needed to write a book and have a PR plan. I needed to construct a plan on how I was going to use my book in my practice, and how I was going to promote it. Upon a recommendation from my colleague, I ended up working with the PR person. I learned how important it was to showcase the work that we do, and my whole motivation was to showcase the work of others. How could I do that if I didn’t have a plan for showcasing my book?
You have accomplished so much and it’s such a young age, what do you want to do next?
I want to continue to grow my practice of teaching, grow our work at the Learning Science Lab, and maybe write a fourth book.
We’re kind of coming up to the end of the interview. Let’s get into some more personal, quick-hitting questions. What is one word that describes you?
What is something that you do for fun?
I play tennis!
If you could meet anyone living or dead, who would it be?
Sun Ra because he claimed to be an alien from Saturn who was here to promote peace!
What is your favorite song?
On the Strip by Sonic Youth, I am a big Kim Gordon fan.
What is one of your favorite TV shows or movies?
The Mandalorian because I get to share it with my son.
Last question to end our interview, do you have any career advice for your students?
A few things: I would say get out of your comfort zone as much as possible, hire people that are better than you, find a mentor, and be a mentor.
1) Executive Education courses that Kristen is teaching this summer:
Coding in R
Visual Analytics Bundle
2) Links to books and website
Kristen Sosulski’s Website
Data Visualization Made Simple: Insights Into Becoming Visual
Essentials of Online Course Design: A standards-based guide
All of Kristen’s books: