DS4A Mentor Spotlight: Carlton Triolo-Sapp, Ph.D.

Learn why Carlton Triolo-Sapp chooses to be a Data Science for All (DS4A) Mentor, helping to guide up-and-coming data talent from underrepresented groups.

DS4A Mentor Spotlight Carlton Triolo Sapp of Northwestern Mutual

Article produced in collaboration with Casey Kelly-Barton

Carlton Triolo-Sapp, Ph.D.’s career and volunteer commitments center his expertise in data analytics, but they’re built on an unexpected foundation: social work. 

As the Senior Director for Service Advocacy and Research, Client Advocacy Planning, and Execution at Northwestern Mutual, Carlton’s role is, in his words, “researching and understanding the pain points in our service experience and then identifying and driving remediations. I use a lot of speech analytics and traditional data analytic methodologies to triangulate my data.”

The goal, he added, is to help Northwestern Mutual differentiate its brand by finding ways to provide “a ‘wow’ experience every time you interact with us.”

Carlton is also a three-time mentor with Data Science for All (DS4A), a free data training program for learners who identify as Women, Black, Latinx, and/or LGBTQ+ to build their skills for careers in data science, data analytics, or data engineering.

Correlation One runs the program with support from DS4A Employer Partners, who enjoy access to the world’s largest community of diverse, job-ready data talent, including DS4A Fellows and Alumni.

The power of mentorship to help people find their ideal career path is something Carlton has experienced firsthand. 

Road to the Data World

Carlton’s own data analytics career started with a supportive professor’s observations and encouragement while he was in graduate school for social work. “We had to take a research class and statistics courses. My professor came to me and said, ‘You're really good at that. You should consider it.’” 

Carlton wasn’t interested at first, but his professor persisted in pointing out his talent in working with data. “She talked to me long enough and convinced me to get a Ph.D. So that's what I did.”

After earning his doctoral degree in research at The Ohio State University, Carlton’s career first focused on helping nonprofit programs evaluate themselves so they could attract funders. 

By the time he was working with United Way Worldwide, he realized that “the strength of my work is understanding where the donor is and where the client is and moving them, using data, to the next point.” 

At the same time, “the idea of the customer experience was becoming important in the for-profit sector, but there weren’t a lot of people with what you would call a customer-centric background.” 

However, Carlton did have that background. 

“My social work training is all about starting where the client is and moving them forward. I was able to understand the service experience that the customer desired and how they wanted to be heard.” 

Carlton's ability to blend empathy with analytics to drive improvement led him to roles with Spotify, Discover Financial, and now with Northwestern Mutual. 

Despite the analytical expertise his current role requires, Carlton views his responsibilities as straightforward—and still with a person-centered approach, even when working with complex data.

“I'm listening to people and understanding what's not working for them. I'm collecting all of my data points and telling their stories for them through my data, so that we can remediate to make those experiences better.”

Mentoring Data Talent

That desire to meet people where they are and improve their experience is what drew Carlton to his role as a DS4A Mentor. 

“For a long time, there was a stereotype that ‘Black people don't do math.’ In a lot of spaces I moved in, I was the only one. It took me a while to be confident in my professional voice, because I didn't want to say or do something that would make it hard for another person like me to get access. Now, the world is different, because we are interested in hearing diverse perspectives, and I'm really encouraged by that. But I do know what those moments feel like.” 

Validating those experiences for the DS4A Fellows he mentor, said Carlton, “helps people to move forward, to not get stuck in their career, in that space, or in that feeling.”

When an email about volunteer opportunities with DS4A landed in Carlton’s inbox, “I understood intuitively that this was the right thing for me to do, because I'm not unique. I'm just a guy whose professor said, ‘You know what, you're pretty good at this, you should maybe think about it.’ If other folks had someone who could look at them and say, ‘You know what, you're pretty good at this,’ then maybe they too would consider [this field] as an option. When you are engaging with someone who looks like you, who had the same struggle, and has overcome it, that lets you know that it is possible.”

As an official DS4A Mentor, Carlton meets weekly with his group of DS4A Fellows as they cover the basics of what they need to become data analysts. “Every Friday, this is my lunchtime meeting. I get a great deal of joy out of it.” 

By talking with his Fellows about their career goals, their resumes, and the importance of building their professional networks, “I get to be a constant bridge builder.” 

The Takeaway

What’s the biggest lesson Carlton hopes to impart to the Fellows he mentors? 

“Be confident. Don’t talk to me about what you can’t do. Showcase what you can do. Let’s talk about how fast you can learn, because look at how much you’ve learned in a short time. It’s great to see them stand up straight and be proud and talk positively about what they can do. I  like kind of being the wind beneath their wings.”

Interested in learning how Correlation One nurtures emerging data talent — and how you and your company can help? Visit our DS4A page now.