Friday, October 24, 2014

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Board Approves Masters Programs in Data Science, European Studies

The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors today approved a new degree program, a Master of Science in Data Science, to be offered beginning in the fall, pending approval from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, through the University’s recently established Data Science Institute.

Data science is the discipline of extracting meaning from massive data sets using a range of tools and methods. It is an emerging, interdisciplinary field of inquiry, drawing from such areas as computer science, statistics, data mining, pattern recognition and operations research.

As data in all human endeavors – health care, science, engineering, commerce and more – becomes increasingly large and complex, society has developed a growing need for experts who can make sense of that information.

“The new data science master’s program will produce graduates who are particularly well-equipped to provide this critically needed level of analysis and expertise,” said President Teresa A. Sullivan. “Students are as eager as we are to see the program launched. Almost 90 applicants are already lined up.”

The master’s program, and the University’s new Data Science Institute, bolster a strategic priority of U.Va. to advance research and scholarship across the disciplines while meeting national needs, such as in the areas of data analytics, storage, security and the ethical use of such data.

The Data Science Institute, which was launched in September and received commitment of a $10 million endowment last month, represents one of 15 key strategies in the University’s overarching strategic plan, the “Cornerstone Plan.” The M.S. in Data Science is its first curricular venture.

The degree program’s objective is to move beyond technical aspects of the science toward integrating it for use in a broad array of disciplines, including education, engineering, the humanities, medicine, the social sciences, and the physical and life sciences – anywhere the collection, analysis and interpretation of vast amounts of data are critical to understanding large, complex systems.

The program also will emphasize ethics, law and policy, areas of particular strength at U.Va.

The master’s degree program, and the institute itself, grew from the realization that the University is well-positioned to place an emphasis on data science as a multi-disciplinary area of inquiry. In 2012 and 2013, the University organized summits that brought together experts and interested parties from the University, government and industry to discuss how the University might establish an institute, and what its goals would be.

The summits revealed enthusiasm across the disciplines for establishing an institute that would utilize existing strengths in computing infrastructure. One of the early goals was to establish a master’s program.

The Data Science Institute is distinguished by its multidisciplinary nature, cross-university collaborations and other activities. Rather than residing in a specific academic department, as is common at other institutions, the institute includes faculty from a broad range of fields – business, education, engineering, the humanities, medicine, the social sciences and the physical sciences – all working together on big data issues affecting society.

The Board of Visitors also approved a new Master of Arts program in European Studies, in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, which will also require SCHEV approval.

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