Photo by Autumn Walter |CIGAR|

University of Rhode Island students will now get the opportunity to work with data as two new data science majors a minor are currently being implemented. Last spring, the University approved the Data Science bachelor’s degree program, which includes a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science version as well a minor.

The new majors, while located in the Department of Computer Science and Statistics, are designed to be interdisciplinary, drawing from a variety of domains like business, computer science, STEM and social sciences. The program is also coordinated by a team of faculty from seven different colleges, meant to represent the interdisciplinary nature of the program.

The idea to create data science as a major stemmed from a national trend of schools creating similar programs as well as a growing demand for students with data science skills. Last year there were nearly 1500 computer science jobs left unfilled in the state of Rhode Island alone.

“The situation in computer science is that there are many, thousands more positions than there are people to fill them,” Joan Peckham, coordinator of big data collaborative and Data Science Programs said. “It is one of the only disciplines in which there are more jobs than there are people well trained.”

According to Peckham, the excitement around data science is that it is growing right behind computer science and will soon have a surplus of jobs. Not only will there be jobs, Peckham assures students that the jobs lead to interesting careers and high salaries. According to Forbes magazine, the average base salary for data scientists is $117,000, but can range upwards to $242,000.

The program has implemented a total of six new courses that will be entered into the catalog in the upcoming fall and spring semesters. Until the new courses get added into the catalog, there are course equivalencies that were created so students can get started taking classes as early as the fall of 2018.

While the program has only been around for a short period of time, there are students currently enrolled with data science as their major with many more students interested in signing up.

“I want to work with data in my future career and this major seemed like a good fit,” Lauren Black, an aspiring data science major, said. “It’s nice to have a formal education about it rather than just stumbling through it.”

The new initiative did not stop at the new programs, and is now currently working on adding an Artificial Intelligence Lab in the library that will serve as a collaborative environment for students to learn artificial intelligence and machine learning. The decision to host the space in the library was made because the library is a convening space for all disciplines which they hope will open the lab up to students across majors on campus.

The lab will have eight workstations, each based on a supercomputer, where students can learn about AI through introductory exercises. The space will also contain deep learning robots with cameras, radars, sensors and actuators that students can program to navigate mazes and unknown environments, a physical model of Rhode Island where students can develop AI that will control the lighting, traffic, transit and parking systems and also an environment where students can access big data sets to practice their skills.

One of the other things that lab will host is a hub for collaborative thinking, that will connect students with experts to think about diversity issues, ethical responsibilities and design brainstorming.

“Ethics is one of the required components of the core of the data science program,” Peckham said. “When you analyze data you use the results to decide policy that impacts peoples’ lives.”

For student interested in the majors or minor, request an appointment with either Peckham or with Academic Advisor Kimberly Fralick who will answer questions and help students navigate the program.

“If you’re majoring in anything not computer science and you want to boost your opportunity for employment, learn some programming,” Peckham said. “Apply it to what it is you love and then you’ll be much more eligible for those higher salaries.”