Every day, we produce vast quantities of data — in the last second alone, you generated at least 1.7 megabytes. Multiplied by the number of global internet users (around 3.7 billion), that’s an enormous amount of data that could be applied to virtually every field. But how can it be transformed into useful information?
That’s where data science comes in. Through techniques drawn from mathematics, computer science, and statistics, the interdisciplinary field has applications relevant to a wide range of academic subjects, from geography to economics, international development to chemistry — and students at Clark University now have the opportunity to make data science their focus.
The new data science major prepares students for success in an increasingly digitized world. Directed by Li Han, professor of computer science, the program provides students with the foundational knowledge and functional experience needed for success in the growing data sciences field — the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 31 percent growth in data science occupations in the next decade.
The data science major builds on the success of the data science minor, which was first offered in 2019 and has since become one of the most popular minors at Clark. In the major, students can earn a bachelor’s degree through the completion of eight foundational courses and six electives within their chosen area of specialization. Tracks are offered in computer science, mathematics, geography/GIS, economics, and management.
“We would love to have more departments and more faculty involved to expand the program,” said Han. “Our goal is to have a vibrant community of students and faculty come together to make Clark a destination school for data science.”
At an open house earlier this month, professors in the five specialization tracks discussed how they use data science in their fields. Lyndon Estes, associate professor of geography, said he relies on geographic data, modeling, GIS, and statistics to understand global agricultural change. Data science gives geographers an unprecedented ability to interpret what’s going on around the world.
Edouard Wemy, assistant professor of economics, put it simply: “Without data, economics is impossible.” Whether micro or macro, economists need information to make good decisions, and that information comes from analyzing data.
Hamidreza Ahady Dolatsara, assistant professor of information management and business analytics in the School of Management, said data science is essential to his research into blockchains and health informatics. Historical data can help develop decision-making tools — whether about financial models or health care. “At Clark, we give you pathways, and you decide which way you want to go,” Dolatsara said.
At the heart of the data science major are required courses in mathematics and computer science, as well as four data science courses based on math and computing principles. Ali Maalaoui, chair of the Department of Mathematics, said the major shows the importance of having math skills and being able to apply them, through computing, to any field. In the math track of the data science major, students learn advanced tools and techniques to create models that can translate any phenomenon and provide information on how it will behave in the future.
Computer science professor Kenneth Basye, who specializes in machine learning, pointed to the captions being automatically generated for the Zoom audience as a prime example of data science in action. The speech recognition model in the cloud works because of complicated models and real-time systems, he explained.
Joining the virtual open house were Clark alumni who studied data science at Clark before it was a major. Jade Zhang, M.A./business analytics ’21, is a first-year doctoral student at Drexel University, where she focuses on forecasting; Bezawit Ayalew ’19 (economics and computer science) is a senior data analyst with the Girl Scouts; Christina Zymaris ’19 (geography and computer science) is a technical product analyst for National Grid; and Teodor Nicola Antoniu ’19 (mathematic and computer science) is an assistant vice president at State Street.
“Data, when manipulated correctly, can tell you a story about the past and provide a path for the future,” Anoniu said.
Two other new programs related to data science also were launched at Clark this fall. A concentration in business data analytics, co-directed by Basye and Professor Jing Zhang, arms students with a foundation of analytical skills within a business context. Designed to be accessible to non-STEM students, this concentration offers direct connections to applications in business and economics, as well as providing tools for data interpretation in a business setting. Keeping with this focus in data sciences, the School of Management also added a data analytics track to the management major.
A new minor in actuarial and financial mathematics — which assesses financial risks in the insurance and finance fields — is directed by Professor Mike Satz and provides a clearly marked pathway into the finance and insurance sectors for Clark students who may choose to major in fields other than mathematics. Recognized by the Society of Actuaries for providing an introductory curriculum in the subject, this minor focuses on providing the analytical, statistical, and computational skills needed within a number of finance sector professions.