New data science major aligns with growing corporate needs

By Sam Corey, For the Daily
Published May 25, 2015

The University established a new data science major, which will be subsumed under LSA’s Statistics Department and the College of Engineering’s Division of Computer Science and Engineering. The new major will be available in Fall 2015 to both LSA and Engineering students.

According to Atul Prakash, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, working to craft a data science major has been a joint effort for several years.

“(The) Department of Statistics and Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) Division have been collaborating for close to a decade on curriculum innovation and both programs observed that there is going to be a need for majors that have strong foundations in both computing and statistics to help drive data-driven knowledge discovery in a wide range of fields including medical sciences and healthcare, transportation, robotics, insurance, social networks, natural sciences and other engineering fields,” Prakash said in an e-mail interview.

The new program will include theory and practice from disciplines such as statistics, computer science, math and information science.

Vijay Nair, professor of statistics as well as industrial and operations engineering, said in an e-mail interview that the cross-discipline focus is necessary to adequately prepare students for the “big data phenomenon” that will drive the work environment.

“Massive amounts of data are now collected routinely in all areas: science and technology, business, medicine and daily applications (Facebook, Twitter, smart phones, World Wide Web, etc.). We are seeing a huge demand for data scientists, people who have the skills to work with massive databases — manage, analyze and transform data into useful information quickly in order to make critical decisions.”

Nair said data science is becoming more vital in the corporate and medical world.

“Most companies are relying more and more on data for their business, and even hospitals, governments and research institutions will need people with skills in data science," he said. "To name a few: Google, Microsoft, Facebook, LinkedIn; Amazon, IBM, SAS; Banks and Financial Institutions such as Citibank, Bank of America, Capital One, and so on. A recent report estimated that, by 2018, the demand for Data Scientists will be close to 500,000 and there will be a shortfall of about 150,000 people with the right skills.”

According to Nair, data science faculty members have estimated that by 2019, 150 students will have declared the major. They anticipate that number to exponentially increase as the world of data science — professionally, academically and socially — grows with it.