After ‘winding road’ to a data science career, Sadie St. Lawrence helps women find a home in the industry

At some point during her first year at Sacramento State, Sadie St. Lawrence ’13 (Psychology) realized she was sick of taking care of rodents.

Sadie St Lawrence

She was working in a lab called “The Neurobiology of Emotional Learning and Memory” and loving the opportunity to learn about science and conduct research. Working with animals? Not so much.

“It was another kind of life crisis where I said, ‘OK, how do I keep the things in my life that I love but get rid of things that don’t bring me joy?’ ” St. Lawrence says. “I honestly don’t even know how I came across data science, but as I read more about it I realized I had some of the core competencies, and then the other ones I thought I could develop.”

Just four years after graduating from Sac State and a little more than a year after earning her master’s degree online from Villanova University, St. Lawrence is the lead data scientist at Rancho Cordova-based VSP, heading up efforts at the United States’ largest vision insurance company to develop data-driven solutions to a variety of business challenges.

When she’s not working, St. Lawrence runs the nonprofit she founded two years ago, Women in Data. The organization – which is focused on raising awareness about the field of data science, educating businesses on how they can use data, and helping to advance women in the field – is borne out of her experience both as a woman in a male-dominated industry and as someone who did not realize until later in her education that the career was an option in the first place.

“The only way the field is going to continue to progress is if we continue to create diversity,” she says. “Any time we shut that off, we’re going to see things slow down. I love my work, I love what I do, so I’m just taking my two passions, data and women, and combining them to make them more diverse and make a better work environment for everyone.”

The lab “life crisis,” was actually the second of its kind along what St. Lawrence calls the “winding way” to her career. An Iowa native, she initially attended Casper College in Wyoming on a piano scholarship before transferring to Sacramento State, which had an exchange program with Casper that allowed her to receive in-state tuition. At the same time, she fulfilled her dream of moving to California.

By the time she came to campus for orientation, however, she realized she didn’t want her hobby to become her job. She had become interested in studying how the mind functions after reading a book about music disorders of the brain, which is how she ended up switching her major to psychology – and how she ended up working in labs like Evolutionary Ecology of Fishes and, yes, Emotional Learning of Memory.

“Sac State was great because I was able to explore so many different ideas with excellent teachers to guide me along the way,” St. Lawrence says. “I meet a lot of people who say, ‘I don’t know what I want to do with my life,’ and my stance is, sometimes figuring out what you don’t like to do is the best way to figure out what you do like to do. Sac State gave me a lot of options to figure out who I really am and what my passion is.”

While concurrently starting her career at VSP and taking graduate courses, she became dismayed that the only opportunities for women data scientists to network seemingly were only in the Bay Area. Drawing on her involvement with the American Association of University Women’s Sacramento State chapter as a student, she decided to take matters into her own hands, founding Women in Data in 2015.

The first meet-up drew just four people. But two years later, it’s an entirely different story. The organization now boasts nearly 600 members, just received tax-exempt status, and is looking to expand to other cities. Events include data science presentations that are open to the community, technical training, and other networking opportunities.

St. Lawrence’s hope is that Sacramento’s data science community becomes as strong as or even stronger than that of the Bay Area or Silicon Valley, especially as she has grown to love the region. In her spare time, she’s a dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner as well as an avid outdoors enthusiast – paddleboarding in the summer, skiing in the winter. And she continues to play piano, a thread that leads back to the start of the sometimes-meandering road to her present.

“At the end of the day, we’re all trying to just find our path,” she says. “You may take a different route to get there, but if you know your end goal and what you want to accomplish, you’ll find a way.”

Bryan Valenzuela painting mural as part of Wide Open Walls

If you find yourself in Midtown Sacramento over the next few days, swing by 28th Street between R and S streets to check out the mural being painted by Sacramento State alumnus Bryan Valenzuela.

Valenzuela is painting the mural as part of the Wide Open Walls festival, running through Aug. 20, celebrating street art and transforming public spaces throughout the city. His mural is part of his decade-long work to create images using handwritten text; you can read more about his work on his bio via the Wide Open Walls website and at bryanvalenzuela.com. If you look closely, you can start to see how the hand Valenzuela is painting is made up of lines of text.

You also can find Valenzuela’s work at the Golden 1 Center. His “Multitudes Converge” is a large suspended glass sculpture that presents an abstract interpretation of the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers, one of several Sac State connections the new downtown arena boasts.

Alum and new Sacramento police chief Daniel Hahn sworn in at Sac State

HahnBlog
Daniel Hahn speaks on Friday, Aug. 11, in the University Union Ballroom after being sworn in as Sacramento police chief. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone) See our full album from the event. 

There was green and gold and plenty of blue in the University Union Ballroom on Friday, Aug. 11, when Sacramento State alumnus Daniel Hahn ’95 (Marketing) was officially sworn in as Sacramento’s 45th police chief.

More than 1,000 family, friends, law enforcement officers, and other guests were on hand for the occasion, including Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. Hahn was sworn in as chief surrounded by his wife, two daughters, and his adoptive mother. In his remarks, he talked about growing up in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood, the importance of community, and returning to the campus where he earned his degree.

“I can’t think of too many places that are more important to our city, and our community, and our youth, and the future of our community, than my alma mater, Sac State,” Hahn said.

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