U.Va. Board of Visitors set to vote on data science M.S.

Data Science Institute Director Brown says program will put University on leading edge of big data

“The multidisciplinary nature of DSI – with faculty representation from business, education, engineering, the humanities, medicine, the social sciences, and the physical sciences — is a distinguishing characteristic of the University’s approach to data science.”

The University’s Board of Visitors is set to vote on the approval of an M.S. in data science during this week’s meeting. The program, which would be be housed in the College, will be discussed during the Education Policy Committee meeting Thursday afternoon before going to the full Board Friday afternoon.

A plan for a master’s program was developed last year by the Faculty Advisory Committee of the recently created Data Science Institute — an interdisciplinary University program approved by the Board last summer.

“Basically [data science] is what the name implies — the empirical use of evidence in a number of different fields … and the use of evidence to understand abstract or physical phenomenon,” said Statistic Prof. Donald Brown, director of the data institute.

Brown said the idea for the larger institute came out of a two-year dialogue and two very successful summits on big data.

“At those summits, they came to a collective decision to do something in the area of data science and to incorporate different fields at the same time,” he said.

The degree would incorporate courses across several disciplines, drawing upon experts in the College, as well as the Engineering, Architecture, Medical and Commerce schools — a feature which the educational policy committee agenda says distinguishes the University’s data science program.

“There are offices [at the institute] for me and and a few of my people, but otherwise we have faculty from all parts of the University,” Brown said. “We operate by bringing together people from different schools. We take advantage of our comprehensive University … in a truly interdisciplinary program.”

The master’s program seeks to tap the potential of applying data science to the broader range of subjects and fields where massive amounts of data can be compiled, tested and interpreted.

The program consists of one full year of studies, which Brown said would “have a shape of its own by teaching computational fundamentals, analytical data modeling fundamentals and even policy and ethics fundamentals.”

The program would also include a capstone project. This could engage students in an international project with colleagues in Brazil, or set them up with companies like Capital One, where they would work with big data analytics, Brown said. The program would look to accept 20 to 30 students in its first year and would look to increase its size with subsequent classes.

“Our goal is to make it so the University is recognized as being a leader in this area,” Brown said, “Columbia has [a big data program] in their engineering school and there are business schools that offer it, but ours is broader than that. It shows how to understand data science from a lot of different perspectives.”

If the program is approved, it will be sent to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia for signature and official establishment.

Published February 17, 2014 in FP test, News

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