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Audacious Changemaker: Data (S)mart  

Aarushi Sahejpal, CAS/BS ’22, SIS/BA ’22, CAS/MS ’23 


Photo­graphy by
Jeff Watts

Aarushi Sahejpal

Aarushi Sahejpal has found purpose in what once paralyzed him.
The child of Indian engineers who immigrated to San Jose in 1997, he found math a frustrating jumble of numbers. “I nearly failed every math class growing up. I was told I couldn’t do it, so I believed I couldn’t do it.”
And then, suddenly, he did it. After creating his first spreadsheet in 2018 as an intern with Education Week, something clicked. “My manager said, ‘You just built a dataset.’ I was like, ‘No way, this is fascinating.’”
In August, Sahejpal, 23, will become one of the youngest professors in AU history, joining the School of Communication—where he’s worked as an adjunct since 2022—as a professorial lecturer in quantitative methods and data journalism. He will hold a dual appointment as data editor at the Investigative Reporting Workshop—a position he’s held since last year.
It only took a few years for Sahejpal to overcome his fear of numbers and literally write the book on it. (So, You Are Bad at Math . . . is forthcoming.) The secret to his exponential success? “A work ethic no one could deny,” he says. 
Sahejpal—one of the first Eagles to major in data science, a program that now boasts dozens of students—taught himself to code while working the overnight shift at the front desk of Anderson Hall. After the pandemic hit and his 8 a.m. classes became 5 a.m. classes on the West Coast, Sahejpal volunteered with the Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project to fill the long days. Within weeks, he was offered a full-time job building the first dataset in the country to track the spread of COVID in long-term care facilities. 
“I realized that you can change the world with numbers. You can help answer some of the most profound questions and shed light on the most marginalized communities,” Sahejpal says. 
Two years later, when he started working at SOC while pursuing his master’s in data science, Sahejpal imparted that same lesson to his students. 
“The tools they learn in my class will help them tell the stories of tomorrow. Data is powerful, but no one is built to be a numbers person. You have to want it,” he says. “I’ve spent my entire life trying to be seen. I found myself at AU, I fell in love with numbers here. I can’t think of a greater honor than helping my students do the same.”