Senior Spotlight: Dancer & Engineer Vikas Arun Finds Untapped Power in Data
Vikas Arun ’17, a professional tap dancer studying operations research and computer science at Columbia Engineering, is all about efficiency—of movement on the dance floor, in the ways organizations can work smarter, and in how data can help direct ambitious projects.
He has danced with a professional tap company, been contracted to perform in Stomp at the Orpheum Theater, and appeared on So You Think You Can Dance. Off the stage, his studies have revolved around applying optimization and algorithmic efficiency in technology- and data-driven fields. His interests range from transportation logistics—he helped develop a reservation system for New York’s Citi Bike program that could cut commuting time—to natural language processing.
“There is so much untapped power in the data that we all create,” says Arun, a Seattle native. “I want to put that data to work for people!”
Two Columbia Engineering professors have proved particularly influential: Jay Sethuraman opened Arun’s eyes to how operations research is transforming numerous fields, and Adam Elmachtoub sparked his passion for data analytics and machine learning. Last summer, Arun interned with Microsoft’s Bing Machine Learning team, where he honed his skills using analytics and algorithms to leverage search data, including a project predicting Olympic winners in Rio.
Arun also co-chairs Columbia’s Undergraduate Recruitment Committee, working closely with the Visitors Center to share the Columbia undergraduate experience with prospective students, their families, and other guests. He will remain on campus for an additional semester to complete his master’s degree in operations research, and he plans to continue dancing professionally. In the long term, he is considering working in data analytics, teaching, or working on projects that blend his backgrounds in engineering and the arts.
“To be surrounded by the smartest professors and students by day and the most accomplished dancers at night has been nothing but a roller coaster of a dream,” Arun says.
—by Jesse Adams