Graduate Intern Lends Health Tech Knowledge to COVID-19 Data Tool

October 2020
Shreya Chandrasekar
Shreya Chandrasekar

In March, Shreya Chandrasekar was worried—wondering how the COVID-19 crisis would impact her graduate studies and her summer internship at MITRE.

She didn't need to be concerned; we had plenty for her to do during her now-virtual internship. Chandrasekar applied her health-focused knowledge in user experience and data visualization to a resource to help the country’s government and business leaders cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s exactly what I wanted to do,” she says.

Helping Consumers Understand Healthcare Options and Costs

Chandrasekar graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. She’s pursuing a dual master’s degree in information sciences and information systems with a concentration in health technology at Cornell Tech in New York City. The graduate school, a recent addition to Cornell University’s system, offers programs that combine technology and entrepreneurship to create “pioneering leaders and technologies for the digital age.”

Each fall, Cornell Tech offers a studio program during which groups of students take on a real-world challenge from a business. Chandrasekar and her team worked with MITRE, creating an online tool to help health consumers understand the costs of healthcare services.

“It had different filters and dropdowns for region, procedure type, provider, and insurance, so users can fine-tune their research about costs,” she says. “There was a lot of interest when we presented it at MITRE.”

That experience introduced her to our culture of innovation, speed, and risk taking, and inspired her to apply for the summer program. Chandrasekar planned to stay with family near our Bedford, Massachusetts, campus during her internship. But the pandemic forced her off campus to her family home in Dallas, where she finished her classes online.

She started her internship in Dallas, too, but returned to New York and will complete the work from campus.

Feeding the COVID-19 Information Pipeline

Chandrasekar’s Cornell Tech studio exposure to MITRE challenges piqued her interest in our organization. Jay Crossler, a MITRE technical fellow who attended her team’s presentation, helped recruit her to the intern program.

“I told him I was interested in the health space, user experience design, and data visualization. He put me on a project that combined all those things,” she says.

Then, COVID-19 began spreading across the country. Crossler saw potential for Chandrasekar to contribute. “He let me choose what part of the coalition I wanted to work on.”

She chose a role designing a data visualization prototype for a return-to-office (RTO) tool that supplements the COVID-19 Decision Support Dashboard. MITRE hosts the online dashboard as a leading member of the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition. The coalition is a private-sector-led response to the pandemic that convenes the expertise of more than 900 healthcare organizations, technology firms, non-profits, academia, and start-ups.

The dashboard, a configurable data repository, includes the latest numbers of cases, hospitalization and ICU rates, and more. It draws publicly available data from nearly a dozen trusted sources, including the Kaiser Family Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, and data.medicare.gov.

The RTO tool helps company administrators making decisions about how to bring workers back to the workplace—depending on location and building type and size—while COVID-19 is a concern.

Chandrasekar also contributed to a Federal Communications Commission Telecommunications Relay Services project that helps improve service for the hearing-impaired. Chandrasekar was part of the usability team, exploring the usefulness of including certain visual elements in captioned telephones. Her research outcomes are also contributing to a concurrent project exploring usability of captioned telephones.

Contributing to Solutions During a Crisis

Chandrasekar says she's completed several internships that involved data visualization and user experience. But that work involved creating a product from scratch.

“Here it’s different,” she says. “I’m contributing to a project that's already in place. It’s a new experience to work with a large group of people all contributing to the same goal from different areas of expertise. There's a lot of collaboration.”

She also appreciates the experience of working on a high-visibility project.

“There’s a little bit of pressure, but I feel it in a good way,” Chandrasekar says. “There’s the fact that a lot of people are seeing and using the dashboard, and the fact that it’s time-sensitive. I’m contributing to the solution for an immediate problem.”

Chandrasekar hasn't decided where her future lies after grad school. Cornell Tech has an incubator where students can establish their own start-ups and spin them off as they grow.

“There are a lot of cool paths to choose from, but MITRE is a great place to work. It’s one of my top options.”

—by Molly Manchenton

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