Class of 2021: This Data Scientist Artfully Builds Models to Power the Business World

May 18, 2021 By Caroline Challe, Caroline Challe,

When Oretha Domfeh was younger, she dreamed of being an actress. Now she finds creativity in numbers. 

A first-generation Ghanianian-American, Domfeh is a graduate student at the University of Virginia’s School of Data Science, where she learned to design algorithms to power products and business decisions. She will graduate this weekend with a Master of Science in Data Science degree.

“Data science is a mix of statistics and engineering,” she said. “Statistics is the fundamental theory of everything, and then programming is the vehicle in which you’re able to clean data, build models or create visualizations.”

As an undergraduate, Domfeh graduated from UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce in 2020 with a B.S in Commerce and concentrations in information technology, business analytics and marketing. During her time there, she took a course taught by professor Jingjing Li, the director of McIntire’s Center for Business Analytics, which sparked her desire to become a data scientist.

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“Professor Jingjing Li is amazing and used to be a data scientist at Microsoft,” Domfeh said. “She was the one who broke down machine-learning algorithms and how they can enhance business strategies. You could definitely characterize her as a person who taught to the masses, not just 1% of the classroom.

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I want to be a data scientist like you.’ I saw how critical data science, artificial intelligence and being data-oriented was in the business world.” 

After feeling the impact of strong mentors, Domfeh focused on helping younger members of the local community. During her time as an undergraduate at UVA, she took part in a program called Sisterly Love. 

“It was a mentorship program consisting of Black women from UVA going to Charlottesville High School to prepare young girls for college by giving them study tips for the SAT, ACT and college admission prep,” Domfeh said. “Then this led to a job in [UVA] Career Services and helping students in their college careers.”

In working part-time at the Career Center during her undergraduate career, Domfeh focused on global projects, combining her mentorship skills with her interest in international travel. 

“I was super grateful to study abroad before the pandemic in 2019. I studied abroad in London at City University’s Cass Business School,” Domfeh said. “I got to travel to many places in Europe, and it really sparked something in me. The experience also helped me with my role at the Career Center, because I had this firsthand experience that I could share with students.”

Domfeh was also the recipient of a Gates Millennium Scholarship, an initiative started by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that fully funded her undergraduate and master’s education. The program’s goal is to promote academic excellence and provide an opportunity for outstanding minority students who are Pell Grant-eligible. Domfeh was part of the Gates  Millennium Scholars’ 2016 cohort, which had an acceptance rate of just 1.9%. 

Domfeh said graduating without debt allowed her to explore her interests and follow her passions. 

“It is an incredible blessing and has been really impactful for my career,” she said. “Just graduating, starting my dream role, and not having to worry about a bunch of loans is something I do not take for granted.” 

After graduation, Domfeh will work at Verisk, a data analytics and risk-assessment firm located in Jersey City, New Jersey. 

“My role is optimizing products and using algorithms to create new products,” Domfeh said. 

As she reflects on her UVA journey, Domfeh is elated at the way her educational career panned out. 

“I am just so grateful that all of the things that I’ve learned have led to that moment where I could become a data scientist,” she said. “It’s definitely what I dreamed about when I came into the Data Science master’s program.”