Instead of spending a Monday afternoon in the classroom, Shital Thekdi, assistant professor of management, wanted her undergraduate students to experience something new.

She took them to the Crooked Data exhibit at the Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art at the University of Richmond.

“The exhibit’s goal is to think about how to be credible, concise, and persuasive when communicating with data,” Thekdi said.

The exhibit presents data in unique and creative ways, helping students get a better understanding of how information can be presented and received.

As described by the University Museums program, some of the works featured in Crooked Data include a selection from R. Luke DeBois’ series A More Perfect Union, in which the artist presents maps of states, replacing the names of cities and towns with the most frequently used words from residents’ online dating profiles that are unique to that region. For example, in the map of Virginia, the city of Richmond and local towns are represented by the words “tobacco,” “reasonable,” and northern Virginia is denoted by the words “Pentagon,” “diplomat,” and “beltway.”

“Students looked at a piece of artwork and asked themselves, what data went into the creation of the artwork, what’s trying to be communicated, what elements are persuasive, and what are some best practices that they can pull from this?” Thekdi said.

She hopes this way of thinking can open students’ eyes to new ways of presenting data.

“What they learned is that it can be challenging once they’re out working to not only come up with conclusions using data, but also to determine how to best communicate it when the data can be really complicated,” Thekdi said.

The goal of the course, Management 342, is to manage projects and processes. The students complete a project for an outside client, analyze data, and use it to help solve a client’s problem.

This semester, some of her students are working with the Better Business Bureau to help them retain members.

“I want them to make justified, credible, persuasive decisions using mathematical methods and whatever analytics came out of the available data to solve the problem,” Thekdi said.

Paige Moynihan, ’19, says visiting the exhibit changed how she approached her project.

“Seeing tangible representations of data was a really eye opening experience for me,” Moynihan said. “Clients have to want to read what you’re presenting to them. If it’s just in an excel spreadsheet, that’s great, but it’s not enough in today’s business environment.”

Zoe Ready, ’19, is also working on the project. As part of their recommendation to the Better Business Bureau, the team is working on a marketing campaign. They want to give more value to the Better Business Bureau name, and make it a necessary asset to every business in Richmond.

“Our idea is to come up with a new way to brand them,” Ready said. “We want the BBB accreditation to really mean something. That way businesses will want and need their stamp of approval.”

Moynihan and Ready agree, this experiential learning project sets them apart on campus, and in the interview process.

“It differentiates you, it’s a tangible article that I can present to employers,” Moynihan said. “These unique ways to represent data will be something that will really help me in my career.”