The Swiftie lore has reached the University of Delaware.
The largest university in the First State has recently introduced a Taylor Swift-themed data visualization course for undergraduate students.
“Data Enchanted: Transforming Numbers Into Knowledge” is taught by Kathryn Bender, an assistant professor of economics who wasn’t a huge Taylor Swift fan herself until doing research for the class.
“So I am a similar age to Taylor Swift, I grew up riding horses in a barn,” she said, “I’ve always liked her music, but I’ve never been like ‘Oh my gosh Taylor Swift!’ until I started researching things for this project, and then I completely became a Swiftie over the past few months.”
Bender said the course is structured like a workshop series, to which students can earn a certificate and a special LinkedIn badge, which is a digital representation of skills and expertise that can be added to a résumé, social media profiles and online portfolio.
There was a gap in UD’s economic curriculum, Bender said.
“I taught this class in the spring called ‘Introduction to Econometrics’ and that’s where students first start learning about how economists do data analytics,” she said. “And I noticed in that class that a lot of students were really confused just about handling or working with data, just in the most basic ways.”
This includes understanding necessary data structures, different variables, programs besides Excel that can be used to handle large amounts of data efficiently and more.
Over the summer, Bender applied for and received a $5,000 Paul J. Rickards, Jr. Teaching Innovation Grant.
She thought incorporating such a popular and successful artist into different economic topics would help students learn in a way that is more interesting, fun and digestible.
“I just noticed how much engagement there was with students whenever Taylor Swift was brought up, or her boyfriend Travis Kelce,” she said.
Tickets to certain sporting events would skyrocket in prices after Swift went to them and in anticipation of her being in a stadium.
People were spending thousands of dollars on tickets to get a seat at one of her Eras Tour concerts.
“And that’s all economics,” Bender pointed out. “I saw how much I had the whole class’s attention whenever I talked about things like that.”
Each workshop uses a Swift song as its basis and theme – “I Knew You Were Trouble: Transforming and Cleaning Data For Analysis” was one.
“…Ready For It: Introduction to Stata” and “You Belong With Me: Building and Structuring Data for Analysis” were other workshops.
“She’s just such an amazing songwriter that she made it really easy with a lot of her lyrics or references to create lessons,” Bender said.
The signature friendship bracelets of Swifties are also made in the workshops as an ice-breaking and networking tool.
One workshop had students compile and create graphs from datasets consisting of Spotify stats on Swift’s songs.
“We really don’t study the impact of Taylor…the focus of it is really on building their data skills and their skills with coding and getting people introduced to a couple different programs that they can code with,” Bender said.
Using such a successful and impactful woman (Swift’s net worth recently cracked $1 billion) as a theme for a STEM-related workshop was also intentional.
“In UD, our economics major is made up of just 25% women,” Bender said. “That’s something that I’ve always cared passionately about, as well, and Taylor Swift, she’s not just loved by women, and plenty of men have shown up at the workshops.”
Bender said the class has tapped into a different group of students that may not have otherwise had their interest peaked in standard data courses.
And while Bender expressed her admiration for the pop/country star, she’s never been to a concert and said her one complaint is the shortage and insanely high price of tickets.
Although she thinks there’s no way Swift’s popularity will die down anytime soon, Bender has thought about expanding the workshops to include different celebrities like Lionel Messi.
“We have these first eight being ‘Data: Enchanted’ and I think it’d be really fun if we had a second series that would be called something like ‘Data: Bejeweled.’”
There will be eight workshops in total this year, and the final five will be held in the second semester after the winter break.
The first three went – swiftly – according to Bender, with about 45 students participating thus far.
There were dozens of students who had to be turned away because of the capacity of the workshops.
“The environment has been fun,” Bender said. “You’ve got to make it fun, especially when it’s such a complex and difficult subject.”
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
Share this Post