Undergrads Now Have Option of Data Science Major at UVA

September 20, 2023
Digital image of the new School of Data Science

UVA’s new School of Data Science, nearing completion, will welcome undergraduates pursuing a four-year degree. (Image courtesy of UVA School of Data Science)

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia has approved an undergraduate major for the University of Virginia’s School of Data Science, a landmark development for the 4-year-old school that was the first of its kind in the nation.

Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, undergraduates could minor in data science while graduate students could pursue master’s and doctoral degrees.

“The B.S. in Data Science is a major milestone for the school,” said Phil Bourne, the founding dean of the school. “It is the final and largest component of end-to-end rigorous data science pre- and postgraduate training for the workforce of today and tomorrow.”

‘Inside UVA’ A Podcast Hosted by Jim Ryan
‘Inside UVA’ A Podcast Hosted by Jim Ryan

University President Jim Ryan underscored the significance of the major’s approval and the University’s role in establishing data science as an academic field.

“The new data science major is a milestone moment and terrific opportunity for the School of Data Science, for the University and for our students,” Ryan said. “I’m grateful to Dean Bourne and his team for their leadership, creative thinking and hard work in seeing this effort to fruition.”

Beginning in the spring, current first-year students will be eligible to apply for the major, assuming they have either completed or are in the process of completing the program’s two prerequisite courses. Students who are admitted will begin the three-year program in the fall.

The curriculum will focus on four domains of data science – analytics, systems, value and design. Students will then apply those lessons to the fifth domain, practice.

“We’ve designed and are going to deploy a curriculum that is not seen anywhere else in the country,” said Brian Wright, an associate professor of data science and director of the school’s undergraduate program. “It’s a much more holistic view, and we feel a domain-shifting perspective on what should be taught to data scientists.”

Phil Bourne at the podium
Phil Bourne, the founding dean of the school, speaks at the school’s groundbreaking. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Bourne said that in addition to “providing a rigorous, holistic” course of study, students will be offered research opportunities and “a full suite of student services,” from academic advising to career preparedness.

“Taken together, I have every confidence in our future data science leaders,” he said.

Alexandra Torti, who will graduate in the spring with a degree in economics, minored in data science. She said she is “so excited and jealous” that students now can pursue a major in data science.

She urged prospective majors not to worry about requirements for extensive preexisting training in statistics and coding.

“UVA does a really good job of starting from the very beginning,” she said. “I think it’s a really great opportunity and something that’s super inclusive in multiple disciplines.”

By teaching students to formulate data questions, perform analyses, and then interpret and present their findings, graduates will be well-equipped to work in a wide variety of industries in both the public and private sectors, administrators said.

“The knowledge and skills that our undergraduate students will gain through the new bachelor’s degree program in data science will prepare them for analytical and critical thinking that is essential to life as an educated citizen,” said Ian Baucom, UVA executive vice president and provost.

“Leaders at all levels – local, state, national and global – need a keen understanding of how to interpret data and draw conclusions to inform policies and practices,” Baucom said. “This new degree program will help our students develop that understanding.”

Since 2014, UVA has offered a Master of Science in data science, initially through the Data Science Institute, the precursor to the school. In August 2022, the school enrolled its first cohort of doctoral students.

The School of Data Science was officially established in September 2019. The school is UVA’s 12th and the most recent.

The school’s establishment was made possible in part by a $120 million donation from the Charlottesville-based Quantitative Foundation, the largest private gift in the University’s history. A new building for the School of Data Science is set to open in April.

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Cooper Allen

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