Thursday, August 28, 2014

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SCHEV Approves New Data Science Master’s Program

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia has approved a new Master of Science in Data Science program at the University of Virginia, offered through the University’s Data Science Institute.

The one-year master’s program will enable students to tackle real-world “big data” problems in a multidisciplinary environment combining systems engineering, statistics, computer science and a range of other areas. Faculty from seven schools at the University are involved with the new degree program.

Data science is the discipline of extracting meaning from massive or complex data sets using a variety of tools and methods. As all human endeavors – from health care to science, engineering, commerce and more – collect, store and process increasingly large and complex data sets, demand is growing for experts who can make sense of the data. U.Va.’s master’s degree in data science has been designed to create those experts.

“The University’s broad, interdisciplinary approach to data science provides a unique opportunity for students interested in making both fundamental and applied contributions,” said Don Brown, director of the Data Science Institute. “By exposing students to data, methods and technologies from diverse disciplines, they will acquire the knowledge and skills to address society’s current and future challenges.

“Our program also provides instruction in the practice of data science as learned by leaders in industry and government, as well as case studies in the ethical, legal and policy implications of data science applications.”

Students will begin the program by taking courses in statistical computing for data science and computation for data science. Four courses will be required in the fall, including an elective. A course in “Ethics, Law & Policy of Big Data” will be required during the University’s condensed January Term. Four more courses will be required in the spring. Some of the courses students must take in the 11-month, 32-credit hour program include “Linear Models for Data Science,” “Design & Analysis of Algorithms for Data Science,” “Applied Data Mining” and “Machine Learning.”

All courses will incorporate common data sets from health, business and engineering, culminating in capstone projects in the spring involving actual big data problems. Students will give written and oral presentations to corporate data scientists. During the program, leading data scientists will periodically visit classes to speak with students, and a job fair will be held in the spring.

U.Va.’s Board of Visitors endorsed the degree program in February as one of the first activities of the University’s multidisciplinary Data Science Institute, which was established last September.

Fifty students are now enrolled, from about 170 applicants.

The program’s objective is to offer more than technical training in data science. It is designed to integrate science and technology into a broad array of disciplines, including the humanities, education, social sciences and medicine – anywhere the interpretation of large data sets can provide understanding to complex systems and problems.

The master’s degree also emphasizes ethics, law and policy aspects of data science. Students and faculty in the program will learn and use data science technologies to include open-source systems, as well as commercial products, such as IBM solutions, which are available through a new partnership with IBM announced last week.

The Data Science Institute, operating on a $10 million endowment, 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.

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