Philip Nelson

Philip Nelson '21
Westminster, South Carolina
Computer science
 Data scientist, Pandemoc Response Accountability Committee

You'd think Philip Nelson winning a national award for his computer science wizardry would mean he'd been working on computers since he was a kid, right? Think again! 

Nelson, a computer science graduate from Westminster, South Carolina, said his love of computer science emerged from “a random decision in high school.” 

“I never thought I'd do computer science as my path,” he said. “I thought I'd do pre-law or history, until I took statistics.” 

Nelson began noticing the overlap between statistics and computer science and started playing around with it. He applied to Winthrop at first because he liked the location – it was far enough from home that he wouldn't be tempted to return every weekend, but also somewhere he felt was new and exciting. 

“I love the personal touch with faculty here,” he explained. “I met with faculty on my campus tour and I loved the campus.” 

Nelson has particularly appreciated the faculty support as he was in the running for the Data Hero Awards' Newcomer Category. His online work to collect, program and communicate South Carolina COVID-19 cases, deaths, testing rates and reporting rates, even broken down by counties, helped him earn the prize. 

His work began with a few graphs and manual data entry, but he soon called upon his course work to create even more. He wrote scripts and learned how to use data tools and libraries, eventually using programming to pull data from S.C. DHEC, make it visually friendly and then post it to Twitter. He's also programmed it to where the data automatically updates each day versus manually.    

“I'm tracking it how I'd like to see it and trying to find unique ways to visualize the data, to talk to people in a way that makes it make sense,” he said.   

The awards are presented by the Data Access, Transparency and Advocacy (DATA) Group, which recognizes people whose commitment to those values has improved their communities; in this case, specifically in light of COVID-19.   

Check out Nelson's work on Twitter.