Bringing Information into Focus
USU Statistics Alum Abbass Al Sharif MS’12, PhD’12 excels in data visualization
Where, on the busy streets of Los Angeles, are pedestrians most likely to get hit by a vehicle? How is public art affecting people’s well-being? Are improvements to health care customer service helping patients and, if not, what changes should be made? Will citizens of Los Angeles actually use the “MyLA311” mobile app to report graffiti, dead animals and other service requests?
Utah State University alum Abbass Al Sharif, MS’12, PhD’12, develops analytical tools to delve into these questions and more as a faculty researcher in the Data Sciences and Operations Department in the University of South California’s Marshall School of Business. An assistant professor who joined USC’s faculty in 2013, Al Sharif conducts research, teaches classes in business analytics and serves as academic director of the master of science program in business analytics.
“Business analytics is a relatively new field combining business principles, statistics and computer science,” says Al Sharif, who completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science at Lebanese American University in his native country of Lebanon. “Data science helps us harness big data sets and use that information to make business decisions.”
The data scientist specializes in the field of statistical computing and data visualization. He’s developed new, multivariate visualization techniques for functional data and is currently developing visualization techniques to study body activity data collected through near-infrared spectroscopy technology.
“Among the applications for studying body activity in this manner is treating sleep disorders and depression,” he says.
At USU, Al Sharif combined his doctoral studies in statistics with a master’s program in instructional technology.
“It was the best of both worlds and a wonderful academic environment,” he says. “I had access to excellent professors, including Jürgen Symanzek, Adele Cutler, Chris Corcoran and Richard Cutler.”
In addition to academic programs, Al Sharif was active in USU’s International Student Association.
“Through ISA, I made a lot of friends on campus and in the community,” he says. “Some of my favorite activities included camping, barbecues at Second Dam in Logan Canyon and house parties. It was very easy to meet people in Utah.”
Al Sharif also praises USU’s Career Services office.
“They helped me immensely with professional development, drafting a resume, preparing for interviews and landing a good job,” he says.
The most memorable experience of his USU career, however, almost ended in tragedy. Al Sharif and classmates James Odei and Anvar Suyundikov were among bystanders who rushed to save 21-year-old USU student and motorcyclist Brandon Wright, who was trapped underneath a burning vehicle, following a Sept. 2012 collision on U.S. Highway 89 near campus.
At a press conference following the accident, from which Wright thankfully recovered, Al Sharif shared he and his fellow statisticians’ thought process as they decided to join others in lifting the 4,000-lb. car off the young victim.
“The chance of him dying if we (didn’t) do anything would be 100 percent,” he remembers. “And the chance of us being in danger if we helped him would be very low.”
Al Sharif remains in contact with Wright (“I spoke to him recently. He bought a new motorcycle”) and has made more than a dozen visits back to Logan since his 2012 graduation.
“Beirut is my hometown, but Logan is my American hometown,” he says.