Oscar Wood’s time at the University of Virginia left a deep impression, and now he’s paying it forward.
Nearly 30 years after receiving his degree, Wood hopes to ensure students at UVA’s School of Data Science have the same opportunities he had. That’s why he’s making a $100,000 investment in a new bridge program that he described as “absolutely wonderful and critical and needed.”
“I’ve done a million things in my lifetime,” Wood, a 1995 graduate in electrical engineering, said. “I’ve been to places, traveled the world, but nothing really reflects as strongly on me as my time at UVA.”
Wood’s life has been full. He worked with the U.S. Department of Defense, including during the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks. He launched Data Tactics, a data engineering management firm, and serves as CEO of NNData, a company he also founded that focuses on implementing data management practices for organizations.
But it all started at UVA and his time building initial, lasting connections with a program that eased his transition to University life and allowed him to be part of a group with a common purpose, dedicated to “propping each other up,” he said.
That’s why he is supporting the Data Science School’s Bridge Plus Program. The program is a way to build community and establish a sense of belonging through activities including workshops, data science projects in the region and engagement with faculty.
“From the second you arrive at UVA, you’re in community with us, we’re in community with you,” said Siri Russell, the school’s associate dean for diversity, equity, inclusion, and community partnerships.
Development of the new bridge program coincides with approval of the school’s new bachelor’s degree, which begins in fall 2024. While the bridge program’s full scope is still being discussed, Wood’s donation “makes it possible to move from ideation into something more concrete,” Russell said.
Wood serves on the board of the School of Data Science, which did not yet exist when he was an undergraduate. Still, he was an early supporter of its mission and that of its precursor, the Data Science Institute. He sees data science as an emerging discipline that is “boundless,” with students who pursue it having the opportunity to “set the bar” on where and how it will have an impact on the world.
He hopes the new bridge program will open doors to those possibilities to students across Virginia.
“Virginia is a very dynamic state in terms of its demographics,” said Wood, who is from Alexandria. “And I really hope that the bridge program makes data science accessible and reflective of the demographics.”
Wood keeps in close touch with many of the students he first met in his bridge program in the 1990s, bonds that helped create an environment in which he could thrive at UVA and beyond.
“You take that with you,” he said.
The program develops in students a mindset of “I can get through it and I’m not going to be afraid to ask for help if I need it,” Wood said.
“I think that’s the part of the bridge program that’s critical,” he said.