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U.Va approves new Data Science B.S.

The first students can apply into the major, previously only offered as a minor, this spring

The Data Science Institute was founded in 2013, with the current School of Data Science created in 2019 following a $120 million gift from the Quantitative Foundation.
The Data Science Institute was founded in 2013, with the current School of Data Science created in 2019 following a $120 million gift from the Quantitative Foundation.

The University will offer a Bachelors of Science in Data Science for the first time — the degree had previously only been available as a minor in the recently-founded School of Data Science. First years will be able to apply to the major starting this spring semester.

The Data Science Institute was founded in 2013, with the current School of Data Science created in 2019 following a $120 million gift from the Quantitative Foundation — the largest private donation in University history.

The new Data Science major will focus on four domains — systems, analytics, value and design. It is an interdisciplinary major bringing elements of computer science, statistics, ethics and mathematics together. 

Phil Bourne, founding Data Science dean and Biomedical Engineering professor,  said the process to get the major approved consisted of getting the proposal through the Provost’s Office and then to the Faculty Senate, where it was sent to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. 

“The major is looked at relative to what's going on in other universities,” Bourne said. “Everybody wants to do data science right now, it’s unbelievable.”

Applicants must have either completed or be currently enrolled in two prerequisite courses — Foundations of Data Science and Programming for Data Science. The programming requirement can also be fulfilled by a variety of entry-level computer science courses, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate credit.

Professor of Data Science Dr. Aaron Abrams joined the University's data science faculty this past year as the new major has increased the need for professors. Abrams said while Data Science incorporates content from comparable majors, such as computer science or statistics, there are other aspects that make it unique. 

“It also incorporates elements from design and ethics,” Abrams said. “To be an effective data scientist, you need some exposure to all those different domains.”

Students who are currently in their second year or beyond can not apply for the major given the three-year course load. Computer science is a highly popular alternative. 

Second-year College student Daniel Brock, majoring in computer science, said that a data science degree is valuable because of its rising popularity in the workforce. 

“If I had started off at U.Va. with the option to major in Data Science it very well may have been an option I would choose,” Brock said. “The market for computer scientists is not very great at the moment and the field is becoming increasingly competitive, whereas data science is continuing to grow in popularity with increasing demand making the market less competitive.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of data scientists is projected to grow  35 percent from 2022 to 2032, meaning the major is increasing in demand and value and  about 17,700 openings for data scientists are projected each year. 

According to U.Va. Data Science News, over 600 undergraduate students across 50 majors were actively pursuing a data science minor as of last spring. 

Although planning to major in commerce, first-year College student Lynn Rizk, is considering a minor in Data Science as opposed to computer science.

“Data Science equips you with analytical skills that help you draw conclusions based on information that you're studying,” Rizk said. “I'm more interested in analyzing information that will specifically help me with consumer and market related trends and using that to analyze businesses.” 

The University has offered a minor in Data Science for the past three years — this past April, the University was ranked 11 in top 20 public universities for highest-paying jobs in Data Science. They have now joined 160 other universities that offer Data Science majors and related courses.

“We did a survey last year of freshmen coming into U.Va., and almost half of them expressed some interest in potentially doing the major,” Bourne said. “The fact students are even interested [in the major] tells you that they are thinking, ‘when I graduate from here in four years, what are the jobs going to be?’”

In light of the growing interest in data science among first years, Bourne's insights shed light on the University's forward-thinking approach. In January of 2019, the University announced the construction of the School of Data Science on Emmet Street, with an amphitheater and pond between the building and the street. The $35 million, 60,000-square-foot building is expected to open in the spring of 2024. Data science classes are currently being held across Grounds, but primarily in the Dell.

U.Va. School of Data Science will be holding ‘Datapalooza 2023: The Future’ on Nov. 10 in Newcomb Hall. This event will focus on the future of data science, AI in education and the launch of the Futures Initiative.