When the Harvard Business Review referred to data science as “The sexiest job of the 21st century” in 2012, few people likely agreed. Now, seven years later, several recent Centre College graduates are joining this field that is here to stay, while others are pursuing related advanced degrees.
And this is even before the College’s new data science major and minor make their debut this fall.
Jordan Turley ’19 will be attending Harvard University to pursue a master’s degree in data science, and he cites the College’s course selection for offering him what he “needed for a career as a data scientist,” in addition to faculty members for fostering his passion for the subject.
Michael Bradshaw, an associate professor of computer science and chair of the new program, notes that his one “big idea” at making Centre an even better place was the implementation of a data science curriculum.
He soon realized, however, that such a project is not light work.
“We spent a year doing an internal review of computer science and data science, followed by a year of external review and numerous, numerous revisions,” he states. With every piece of feedback received, another 5-10 hours of meetings was required in order to “recraft our proposal into something more elegant.”
Apart from a fundamental grasp of coding and algorithms in class, the data science major encourages students to pursue their academic interests through research with faculty, marking an intellectual shift from working with isolated numbers to solving real-world problems.
However, students will not always rely on professorial direction. The College’s emphasis on critical and independent thinking means going above and beyond in all aspects of the learning process. Students majoring in data science are required to undertake a capstone project the fall of their senior year where they resolve a notable data analytics problem.
Though the major delineates the most concentrated roadmap to a related career, the minor is nothing to brush aside. Students who add a data science minor to their repertoire will find that its structure offers support for primary majors, from historians finding trends in national identity over decades to economists predicting climate change’s effects on financial markets.
Unsurprisingly, students have demonstrated significant interest in the field. More than 80 students attended a 2017 career chat held by the College’s Center for Career & Professional Development, where two alumni talked about their own careers in data science.
Tom Allen, an associate professor of computer science and leader on the project, looks forward to the fall when the program comes into full effect.
“I’m excited, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of this,” he says. His commitment, however, extends beyond the mere four years of college as he considers the implications on an even higher level, such as “privacy, justice, security and our overall well-being.”
“Centre College is in an outstanding position not only to train new data scientists, but to nurture a generation with the capacity to reflect deeply on technology and its potential, both good and evil,” Allen adds.
by Abigail Anderson
July 2, 2019