UVA Receives Official Approval to Form School of Data Science, Taking Steps to Transform Society

Thomas Jefferson statue in front of the Rotunda with a blue, purple, and pink clouds

Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia on Tuesday gave final approval for the creation of the University of Virginia’s School of Data Science, the 12th school at the University. This comes eight months after UVA received a $120 million gift – the largest private gift in institutional history – to form the groundbreaking School of Data Science. 

“I am delighted that the School of Data Science has cleared its final hurdle and can officially move forward,” said UVA President Jim Ryan. “I want to thank the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia for sharing our excitement in this proposal, and Phil Bourne and his team at the Data Science Institute for their hard work. Together, we have a chance to create a different kind of school that will advance our understanding of the world in all kinds of ways, and I look forward to getting started.”

Focusing on interdisciplinary, collaborative research and education, the school will join with other departments across UVA, the community, industry, government and non-profit organizations to use data science to further discovery and make a positive impact on society.

“This is a historic moment for the University of Virginia and for the field of data science,” said Elizabeth Magill, provost of the University of Virginia. “The school is coming online at a time when the amount of available data in the world is more than doubling every two years, and there is soaring demand for qualified data scientists who can analyze and interpret vast amounts of data. A new school will catalyze research on daunting societal challenges and point the way toward their solutions. It will also allow us to prepare students to become responsible and creative leaders who are capable of using data science in a wide range of fields.” 

Provost Magill appointed Professor and Data Science Institute Director Philip E. Bourne as dean of the School of Data Science immediately after the vote conferred official status upon the school. 

“Phil has been a tireless advocate for data science as a key element of a healthy academic ecosystem,” said Magill. “His peerless credentials, commitment to collaboration, and creative approach to data as an aid to interdisciplinary research and discovery – not to mention his innovative ideas for the school’s organization and approach – make him the ideal founding dean for the School of Data Science.”

With official approval, the new school will undertake a plan set forth by Bourne and crafted with the help of the Data Science Institute team and others across Grounds.

The institute has offered on-Grounds and online Master of Science in data science programs, as well as dual master’s degree programs, all of which will continue this academic year. In upcoming years, the school hopes to expand these offerings to teach students across the educational pipeline in undergraduate, Ph.D. and professional programs. A substantial multi-year initiative that includes hiring 10 endowed chairs, an associate dean, research and teaching faculty, and staff, plus the development of a new building that will serve as a cornerstone of the planned Emmet/Ivy Corridor, will begin immediately.

“We envision the new School of Data Science at UVA as a ‘school without walls,’” Bourne said. “In its very structure and foundation, we will build collaborative and interdisciplinary opportunities through partnerships and physical spaces for shared research and education programs. The new school will combine a focus on research, education, and service to build bridges across academic, geographic, commercial and cultural boundaries using responsible, open data science.”

As the school launches this academic year, it will rely on a strong mix of existing faculty and researchers who have expertise in systems engineering, education, politics, biomedical data science, digital humanities, finance, ethics, open hardware and civic technology, and business analytics.

In the coming years, the school plans to expand its faculty roster to incorporate a wider range of fields, further supporting its distinct interdisciplinary approach, in environmental science, democracy and policy, architecture and beyond. As big-data management and analysis increases in importance and value, society needs people who can responsibly and ethically analyze, interpret and make use of masses of data, Bourne said.

Building upon the Data Science Institute’s existing Center for Data Ethics and Justice, the school also will place an unmatched focus on ethics and the practice of responsible data science, continuing research into the ethical implications of machine learning, artificial intelligence and other evolving applications of data science principles. 

“Data science offers incredible, revolutionary opportunities to understand and make an impact on our world and our future,” Bourne said. “Now it is more important than ever that everyone using those skills and tools – from students just beginning to learn statistics and programming, to leaders working at the cutting edge of the field – understands the importance of using data ethically and responsibly, and putting their skills to work to make a positive impact on society and our world.”

Through partnerships with businesses, government agencies and other institutions throughout the world, data science students at UVA will continue to engage with industry leaders and professionals in projects that address topics concerning the environment, business and finance, infrastructure, health and medicine and more. The School of Data Science also will continue to manage and expand international partnerships with the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, the Charité Universitätsmedizin in Berlin, the University of Manchester and the University of Zurich. 

With the support of a $120 million grant from the Quantitative Foundation in January, the school is also well-positioned to hire new interdisciplinary faculty, build a future home at the Emmett/Ivy Corridor that accommodates a growing number of students, researchers, staff and faculty, and pave the way for the nation’s most innovative research initiatives. 

Please join the Data Science Institute and the University in celebrating the official launch of the School of Data Science on Tuesday, Sept. 24, at 4 p.m., at the Dell 1 building on Central Grounds. The event will feature remarks from UVA Provost Elizabeth Magill and Dean Phil Bourne followed by food and drinks. For more information on the event or the School, contact communications manager Melissa Moody.

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