Wittenberg starts new data science program

Staff report

SPRINGFIELD – Committed to expanding opportunities for students, Wittenberg University will introduce a new data science program beginning in the fall of 2017, allowing students to pursue a major or minor in data science.

Data science is a technical major consisting primarily of statistics and computer science courses. It involves gaining expertise in scientific methods, processes and systems to extract knowledge from data in various forms and is a way to unify statistics and data analysis in order to understand occurrences. This new major will be housed within the department of mathematics and computer science. In addition to this new data science major, the department has created new computer science and cybersecurity majors recently, and revised their math major and math major with concentration in statistics.

“This is an exciting major that will lead to high-paying jobs for our students,” said Adam Parker, associate professor of mathematics and department chair. “Students in this program would be quantitatively minded and interested in developing the statistical and programming skills to gain new knowledge and insights from data.”

According to an article from Forbes, the median salary of a junior-level data scientist is $91,000, and those managing a team of 10 or more data scientists have an earning potential of more than $250,000 per year. The abundance of job prospects and the higher salary range are in part because of the shortage of data scientists, which is driving Wittenberg to offer the major. In fact, the McKinsey Global Institute recently released a survey indicating that by 2018 there will be a shortage of 190,000 skilled data scientists in the United States alone. These are the reasons that the Harvard Business Review called data science “the sexiest Job of the 21st century and CNBC just listed data scientist as the “No. 1 best job” of 2017.

The data scientist is a high-ranking professional with the training and curiosity to make discoveries in the world of big data. The title has come about because of the volume of information that is now available as a result of new technology.

In addition to the major, a minor in data science compliments many existing majors at Wittenberg and makes those graduates even more marketable. Any major where data is being collected (business or political science or environmental science) would benefit from the statistical expertise and computer skills to sort through and analyze the massive amounts of data being created in those fields.

A number of Wittenberg alumni are currently working in data science and many were contacted to help design the major so that it includes the skills most useful in the field.

“Data science is a great addition to Wittenberg’s offerings, as it plays on strengths we already have in a traditional liberal arts discipline of mathematics,” said Allison Scaia ‘09, an assistant vice president in claims operational analytics at The Hartford. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a well-rounded data scientist who has gone through a liberal arts curriculum. It’s imperative that data scientists have strong critical thinking skills and express curiosity, as well as strong communication skills. The liberal arts foundation at Wittenberg gives students a strong foundation to be successful after leaving Wittenberg. I would have loved to have data science as a major.”

Wittenberg’s program will allow students to gain practical and theoretical knowledge in the context of a liberal arts education, equipping them with the skills needed for success in data science field.

“In our highly connected, technology-driven society, data is at the intersection of everything we do,” said Steve Dennett ’07, data scientist with NetJets. “New data, and therefore new problems, are being generated at a breakneck pace, and I have seen firsthand the need for more graduates with a well-rounded data science education to work on these problems. From science to the arts, from industry to government, no matter what a student’s interests may be, there are data problems to be solved. A data science curriculum, like the one Wittenberg is now offering, will provide graduates with the skills necessary to succeed in whatever field they choose to go into. As an alumnus, I’m proud that my alma mater is developing new, modern degrees like this one, which will help graduates make a positive impact on our world.”

Staff report