Spotlight on Jennifer Zhang

In celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, meet some of CUIMC's AAPI staff and faculty

April 30, 2021
Ye Jennifer Zhang
Ye Jennifer Zhang, business intelligence analyst in the College of Dental Medicine. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Zhang.

The clinics at the College of Dental Medicine are famous for their data collection. The school is one of the first academic dental institutions to unify patients’ dental and medical data, so interrelated conditions are better detected and managed. Video cameras in the teaching clinics record student-patient interactions in an unobtrusive way to facilitate learning. Even the instruments and chairs are wired to track the movement of instruments used and the stress levels of the patient.

As a business intelligence analyst, Ye Jennifer Zhang helps to collect and analyze all this data. 

“My job is mainly doing the database work,” Zhang says. “We put the data into tables and reports that can be understood and evaluated by other people in the school. For students, for example, we report on their productivity: how many procedures they do, what kinds of procedures, how many patients they see.” The students can see their data and the faculty also learn which students need a helping hand. Zhang also produces reports on finances and clinic data, down to how many appointments are scheduled for each chair.

Behind the scenes, Zhang and her co-workers make sure the databases are maintained and seamlessly pull in data from all over CDM. They’re not yet analyzing all the data coming in from the dental chairs and instruments, but they’re working on it.

“The best part of my job is when one of our reports helps a student in their training or an administrator make a decision,” Zhang says. “When someone says they are going to improve this because the data shows them a reason, that's really rewarding.”

Mechanical engineer to computer science

Zhang first entered the database field after leaving China in 1993. She had majored in mechanical engineering in China, but finding a job in her field was tough. She moved to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in computer science. 

She originally applied her database skills to the finance industry before moving into academia at NYU. She joined Columbia in 2013.

“What I like about working in an academic setting is they usually encourage you to learn new technologies,” she says. “We’re learning new things about the cloud, video data, and artificial intelligence, even though those are not immediately applicable to the job. And I enjoy learning about all the different types of research going in the schools.”

When Zhang isn’t crunching data for the dental school, she enjoys traveling with her family to Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean (in pre-pandemic times).

Lately, with travel restricted, Zhang has decided to bring a bit of Europe to her home by building Rome’s Colosseum out of Legos. “There are 9,063 pieces and it’s taken me months,” she says. “I guess I’m putting my mechanical engineering skills to use, reducing some COVID stress, and traveling all at once.”