The world is in the midst of a data revolution. From how we shop to how we vote and all decisions in between, there is a growing need for professionals trained to use modern data analysis to solve everyday problems.
To meet these 21st century workforce demands, West Virginia University is launching a new undergraduate data science major in fall 2021, the first of its kind in the state.
“I am delighted that we are able to launch this new and innovative degree program. The data science degree will provide an excellent opportunity for our students to learn and understand the intricacies of ‘big data’ and, more importantly, be able to utilize vast amounts of information and data to solve real-world problems,” said Gregory Dunaway, dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, home to the new major. “I am particularly excited that this degree intersects so many other areas of academic study so that students from all over the University may benefit.”
Data science is an emerging interdisciplinary field with roots in applied mathematics, statistics and computer science. While many graduates will go on to work with big tech, others will find careers in industries like healthcare, business and government. With increasing employment demands across many STEM, social sciences and humanities fields as well, the new major will train students for careers in any industry.
“Data now includes images, tweets and locations. Data is being collected constantly and used in making decisions, whether we realize it or not,” said Snehalata Huzurbazar, professor and the developer of the data science major at the College. “New areas like digital humanities and computational social sciences are appearing at the intersection of traditional fields of study. A major goal of the program is to train our students to understand and support these exciting opportunities.”
Students will be trained in the data science pipeline, which includes learning how to access data, transform it into a usable format, formulate questions the data can answer, analyze the data and present visualizations and conclusions. Students will also learn the main programming languages used in data science, Python and R, which are standard requirements for entry-level data science jobs.
“What’s different about the data science major is that it concentrates on data and its modeling and analysis to tackle and solve real problems,” Huzurbazar said. “This is important to many students who think about real problems and what majors might train them to use quantitative skills in tackling those problems in their future careers.”
All students will complete an area of emphasis in a subject matter discipline of their choice to explore future careers and apply real-world problem-solving techniques. Potential areas include biology, criminology, geography, geology, public health, psychology and sociology, though students can customize based on their interests.
“If students are interested in a quantitative field, our new data science major adds a timely option to the broad set of pathways they can take,” Huzurbazar said.
Earl Scime, the Oleg Jefimenko Professor of Physics and Astronomy, will oversee the data science major and the Department of Mathematics as part of his leadership to re-envision and integrate mathematics with statistics, data science and math education for students across WVU. He is the former chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy and former interim dean of the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.
“The new vision for mathematics and data science within the Eberly College will involve faculty collaboration across the University. We want to give students the tools to work with large data sets, machine learning and artificial intelligence,” Scime said. “This approach will enable us to develop new interdisciplinary research programs in areas of data sciences and statistics.”
Scime succeeds Marjorie Darrah, professor of mathematics and former interim chair of the department. Among her accomplishments, Darrah oversaw the addition of an emphasis in actuarial sciences for the math major and strengthened the Institute for Mathematics Learning, whose faculty support teaching improvements that affect thousands of students each year. Darrah is also an alumna, the first woman to earn a PhD in mathematics at WVU.
Scime looks forward to building new research projects in support of WVU’s Research 1 designation.
“Don’t be surprised to see future research projects involving journalists, political scientists, social scientists, historians, chemists, biologists, physicists, and the list goes on,” Scime said. “We hope that the research activities will inspire new ways of thinking, about both existing fields of study and burgeoning industries, and we expect our high-quality graduates will attract new economic activity to West Virginia.”