College of Natural Sciences welcomes new data science major

Charlotte Lang

Data Science— a study based on computer programming, data analysis and database systems— has recently been introduced to Colorado State University as a major in the hopes of preparing students for a successful future in a technologically-based world.

Developed and led by Executive Associate Dean for Academics in the College of Natural Sciences Simon Tavener the new major is interdisciplinary and will span four departments — computer science, statistics, mathematics, and economics. The degree is planned to commence in Fall 2018.

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“We felt it was important for CSU’s role as a land grant university that we be able to train students in this growing area,” Tavener said. “I hope to establish a new major with strong enrollments that will prepare students for both the 21st century workforce and for further study in a range of different fields.”

In order to prepare students in such a way, students may expect a set of new courses developed jointly by the departments for the concentrations.

“Data science at CSU will be built on a set of existing courses offered by the departments of Statistics, Mathematics, and Computer Science,” Jay Breidt, a professor for the Statistics department. “Our curricula will all get a fresh look and infusion of new ideas, since those existing courses need to integrate as seamlessly as possible with innovative new courses.”

Our curricula will all get a fresh look and infusion of new ideas, since those existing courses need to integrate as seamlessly as possible with innovative new courses.”  Jay Breidt, statistics professor

Faculty will be working to ensure students taking this path will obtain the right mix of mathematical, computational and statistical tools— both from old and new courses.

An example of one concentration is statistics and, already, changes for students and faculty in the department have been noticed. Changes include the steady growth of the statistics major and the availability of data science courses in the statistics major.

“Statistics is an integral part of data science, so students who follow the traditional statistics major will be encouraged to take and the data science courses and will almost automatically get at least a data science major,” Breidt said.  “(The data science courses) will make the stat major even more interesting and marketable, and students will figure this out quickly.”

While the benefits are many across all fields, there is a higher demand for faculty and the departments are currently searching for people to fill this demand.

It is hoped that students in the major or minor will develop the skills needed to solve modern, data-intensive problems across all fields. Each concentration is constructed to follow this goal.

“Students in the statistics concentration … will focus in particular on using tools from probability theory to make appropriate inferences in the face of uncertainty,” Breidt said. “Students in the computer science concentration will learn more about fast computations and massive data sets, and students in the economics concentration will learn more about that particular application area. In other words, the data science degree is interdisciplinary, but the concentrations allow students to study more deeply within a particular discipline.”

These skills and practices will lend themselves to life outside of college as a result of the growing demand for data science majors in many career fields. According to Breidt, these can range from business, medicine, public policy and the sciences.

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This wide range of opportunities and applications is what motivated Tavener in bringing this major to the University.

“The enormous increases in our ability to collect, store and communicate data over the past two or three decades has fundamentally changed science of all stripes, business, industry and finance, health care and government,” Tavener said. “The challenge now lies in drawing insights from and making predictions based upon the vast quantity of data. The demand for data scientists who can do so currently outstrips supply, so we believe graduates from the program will be highly employable.”

Other members of the faculty recognize the demand of skill sets the introduction of the major will equip students with.

“There is a growing demand for data scientists globally,” Janice Nerger, Dean of the College of Natural Sciences, said. “Preparing our students for the job market is a priority of the College.”

Collegian reporter Charlotte Lang can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter as @ChartrickWrites.