Sierra Watkins ’14: Gaining Insights Through Data Science

When Sierra Watkins ’14 was on a Baylor trip to meet with service-oriented nonprofit organizations for her senior capstone project, she also made time for college visits. Her host at Barnard College in New York City was Megan Thompson ’11, who was thriving at one of the oldest women’s colleges in the world. Watkins knew she would too. “I thought right away, this is definitely home,” said Watkins. “It’s the perfect mix of a larger, well-funded, well-recognized university that’s also an intimate women’s college in the best city in the world.”

An honors physics class led by Jeff Edwards, which Watkins calls “amazing,” prompted her to major in physics at Barnard. Her Baylor education also affected other aspects of college life. “Baylor encourages you, actually requires you, to do things outside of class. I continued that, and I was always involved in extracurriculars.”

Watkins’s two biggest areas of interest were club rugby, which she played all four years in the Ivy Rugby League, and research. Her senior thesis was on high energy astrophysics for a next generation telescope. With the new sensitivity specifications, she simulated particle showers to predict which events the telescope might see.

When Watkins determined that she did not want to pursue a Ph.D., often a next step for researchers, she learned that data science is another career path for those with physics degrees. While still considering data science and applying for management consultant positions in New York City, Watkins was in Chattanooga visiting her parents, DeVonne Fouché and Baylor English instructor Chris Watkins. She heard about an opening at FreightWaves, one of Chattanooga’s fastest-growing companies. Watkins is now a data scientist at FreightWaves, providing insights into information about logistics for shippers, carriers, and brokers across the United States.

“It [transportation] is an industry I didn’t know anything about or that it is so huge in Chattanooga. It’s a backbone of consumerism,” said Watkins. “FreightWaves is a startup, and I have a lot of agency over what I do. The team is wonderful.”

She is also pleased to have rugby back in her life. Watkins plays on a new team called the Nooga Queens.