“Data Science will have a large footprint at Rice University,” said Devika Subramanian, professor of computer science, of electrical and computer engineering and co-chair of the Data Science Curriculum Initiative Committee at Rice University.
The committee, now in its second year, was organized to make curricular training in data science available to Rice undergraduates.
“This is a university-wide data science minor with the vision that Rice undergraduates in any discipline can become proficient in data science – we call it the X+DS minor,” said Subramanian.
The Initiative is part of the university’s $45 million investment in research and teaching excellence. Its goal is to bring new data scientists to Rice as tenure-track faculty members, to support collaboration-building activities for Rice’s existing data-science community and to develop educational offerings in Data Science at both the undergraduate and graduate level. The committee was created to formulate a vision and devise a plan to meet the curricular aims of this initiative.
Rice provost Marie Lynn Miranda received the curriculum committee’s first report last April. Subramanian said one of the challenges was deciding how to make the minor accessible to students from different academic backgrounds while maintaining its technical depth and rigor.
“The first report laid out a balanced vision for the minor including a strong quantitative core in statistics, applied mathematics and computer science, communication and data visualization, ethics, privacy and data security, as well as a capstone project experience to integrate data science with a student’s major field of study.
“When a student goes out and says ‘I’m a data scientist from Rice,’ people can be sure that they not only have the technical chops to do data science, but they also possess a wider understanding of the analysis context, including ethical considerations in handling and interpreting data. They will be able to explain what they’re doing to a wide audience, and not just their disciplinary peers,” she said.
Multiple departments across the university are working together to create an interdisciplinary minor, Subramanian said.
“We are creating six courses, two of them in brand new areas. The first is a course in communication and visualization which will be offered through the Center for Visual and Oral and Written Communication at Rice. The second is a course on data ethics, which will be taught by a faculty member newly hired under the Data Science Initiative,” she said.
About prerequisites for undergraduates interested in the minor she said: “A calculus sequence and a programming course will be important preparation for the six-course minor.”
Keith Cooper, co-director of the Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology and L. John and Ann H. Doerr Chair in Computational Engineering, has been involved in the Data Science Faculty Recruitment Initiative from the beginning as co-chair.
“The rewarding part is the fact that we hired some outstanding young people who will carry this institution forward in data-driven knowledge discovery. That’s really great and that’s the huge win here,” Cooper said.