Questions and Answers About UVA’s Plans for a School of Data Science

Students working together on a laptop

The University of Virginia on Friday announced plans to establish a School of Data Science, which would become the 12th school within the University and the first established in more than a decade.

Here are questions and answers about the news.

What is data science?

Data science is an interdisciplinary field that uses scientific methods, processes, algorithms and systems to extract knowledge and insights from data. The amount of data in the world is more than doubling every two years, and data scientists analyze and interpret data to help make informed decisions for the betterment of society.

Data science sits at the intersection of computer science, statistics, mathematics, information science and specialized fields of knowledge or study, like medicine, politics and music. Conducting data science transcends traditional disciplinary (school) boundaries to discover new insights, often by combining disparate data sets that would not likely be brought together otherwise.

When will the school open?

The new school is still in the design phase, and the University continues to seek input and necessary approvals from multiple groups, including the Faculty Senate, Board of Visitors and ultimately, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. With necessary approvals, the school could begin in fall 2019 or fall 2020.

Will UVA build a school facility?

An academic building is planned. Details regarding a timeline, its size, design and location are currently under discussion. Until a new facility is available, the school will be based in the existing UVA Data Science Institute in the Dell 1 and 2 buildings on Grounds.

What can students do with a degree in data science?

A degree in data science prepares students for an array of opportunities across industries. An example of what 2018 UVA Master of Science in Data Science alumni are doing:

Job titles include data scientist, senior data analyst, data engineer, research engineer, data science developer, data science engineer, deep learning research scientist, bioinformatics analyst, analytics associate, analytics consultant, and visiting researcher.

Top skills include data mining, text analytics, data visualization, statistical modeling, natural language processing, data analysis, programming languages such as Python and “R,” and artificial intelligence.

Employers include RedHat, Fermata, the UVA Career Center, 2nd Order Solutions, Novateur Research Solutions, the UVA School of Law, CCRi, the Green Bay Packers, Kaleo, Springbok, UVA Research Computing, Metis Machine, PURE Insurance, ORISE DoD Programs, the UVA Health System, Walker Advertising, Opex Analytics, Chubb, Thomson Reuters, MITRE, Automation Finance, Booz Allen Hamilton, Control Risk, Capital One and APT.

Does UVA currently teach data science?

The Data Science Institute serves as a hub and collaborator for data science education, research and expertise across Grounds. The institute, founded in 2013 and originally led by Don Brown, a professor of systems and environmental engineering, has a dual mission to provide a rigorous and interdisciplinary education that prepares Master of Science in Data Science students to become responsible, highly skilled data scientists, and to pursue innovative, data-driven research for the benefit of society.

For the past five years, the Data Science Institute has educated students through an MSDS program, and MSDS/MBA and MSDS/MD dual-degree programs. In 2018, the institute launched its online MSDS program.

With initial support from a Jefferson Trust grant, the Data Science Institute has also supported Presidential Fellows in Data Science since 2013. This program creates opportunities for graduate students across Grounds to collaborate on multi-disciplinary research projects that address real-world problems combining domain expertise with cutting-edge data science tools and techniques.

What additional programs and degrees will the new school offer?

UVA plans to over time grow the residential and online Master of Science in Data Science and dual-degree programs, and plans to expand with the addition of a Ph.D. program, undergraduate programs in data science and data science certificates. The goal is to ensure that all UVA students across schools and disciplines, as well as qualified applicants learning remotely, have the opportunity to add data science to their education and professional experiences.

Will the new school have its own faculty?

The School of Data Science will have dedicated faculty, and will continue the model used by the Data Science Institute, which includes faculty with joint appointments in other schools and an array of cross-disciplinary teaching.

Do plans for the new school have support in the UVA academic community?

The deans of all 11 of the University’s existing schools have expressed support for the School of Data Science.

How will the UVA School of Data Science be different?

It will be designed as an open ecosystem that fosters interdisciplinary research, teaching and partnerships across the University, with the private sector and with government and community organizations.

The school will have satellites and centers instead of departments. The satellites will be embedded in other schools to facilitate collaborative data science work in those disciplines, and the centers will be theme-based, with focus areas to include machine learning; data acquisition; engineering; analytics; visualization and dissemination; and ethics, policy and law.

The school will focus on responsible data science, striving for diversity, openness and transparency, with the goal of making everything – from policies, procedures and educational materials to lab materials, data, analytics and published literature – a resource for the public good.

What type of information generated by the school will be available to the public?

The school will be committed to a culture of ethically responsible openness as its default mode of operation. At the same time, the school must have a business model that is sustainable and that provides appropriate security and protection of intellectual property and personal information. Where possible, the products of the school will be made available freely and in a timely manner without restriction, provided attribution is given to the producers of those products. Products could include educational materials and the complete research lifecycle – lab materials, data, analytics and the published literature.

Did UVA receive a gift to support the new school plans?

On Jan. 18, UVA announced that it had received a grant of $120 million to help establish the school. It is the largest private gift in the institution’s 200-year history.

Who is providing the gift?

The gift is provided by the Quantitative Foundation, a private foundation based in Charlottesville, Virginia. Jaffray Woodriff, a 1991 graduate of UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce, is trustee of the foundation. His wife, Merrill Woodriff, who completed a bachelor’s degree from the College of Arts & Sciences and a master’s degree from the Curry School of Education in 1998, is a foundation director. Jaffray Woodriff is also co-founder and CEO of Quantitative Investment Management, a private investment firm also based in Charlottesville.

Did Quantitative Foundation also help establish the Data Science Institute?

The foundation provided a $10 million gift to endow the creation of the Data Science Institute in 2013.

What will happen to that endowment?

Gift funding for the Data Science Institute’s endowment will be transferred to the endowment for the new School of Data Science.

Is UVA providing additional funding for the new school?

University funds will be made available from UVA’s Bicentennial Professors Fund and the Bicentennial Scholars Fund, and from other University sources. The school also will be supported by philanthropy and tuition, and through faculty research grants.

Who will lead the new school?

Phil Bourne, director of the Data Science Institute since 2017, will serve as acting dean of the UVA School of Data Science.

When was the last time UVA established a new school?

UVA established the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy in 2007.

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