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SUNY Fredonia starts Data Science program

Data Science, a new academic minor designed to give an edge to students to solve problems in a variety of academic fields, will be in place at the State University of New York at Fredonia when the Fall 2020 semester opens.

“Increasingly we live in a data-driven world,” said Department of Mathematical Sciences Chair and Associate Professor Julia Wilson.

The explosion of computing power and the ubiquitous reach of the internet have given us the ability to collect large amounts of data about every aspect of our lives. This brings both opportunities and risks, and it is increasingly important for well-educated citizens to have at least a basic understanding of data science.”

Employers in many sectors, including the public sector, are in urgent need of college graduates who have specialized knowledge and skills in this area, Dr. Wilson added, and demand by employers for graduates with these skills will outpace supply for some time to come.

Data science, a relatively new field that is still evolving, can be defined as the theory and practice of working with data — collecting, organizing, storing and analyzing data, with the goal of making sound conclusions or predictions, and communicating effectively with and about data, Wilson explained. An understanding of the ethical considerations associated with all these activities is also included in data science study.

Knowledge and skills learned in data science can be applied to majors in the natural and social sciences, business, political science and education, among others, and can complement students’ undergraduate coursework and help them for graduate school and/or employment, Wilson said.

Research in psychology often involves gathering and analyzing data on human subjects, Wilson explained, so a psychology major can use data science skills to better understand research results and methodology. Business students increasingly need to work with and understand data, she added.

A student who would like to work as a general data scientist should complete an Applied Math major with a Data Science minor, Wilson suggested.

“Employers are having trouble finding candidates with these skills, so a Data Science minor in itself should be attractive to many employers, especially in business,” Wilson said.

The Data Science minor, housed in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, consists of 22 hours of course work in mathematics, statistics and computer science, and areas of application. All lower level courses are offered every year. Two courses, STAT 260 (Introduction to Data Science) and STAT 360 (Topics in Statistics), are new offerings and were developed by and will be taught by SUNY Distinguished Service Professor H. Joseph Straight.

“We are hoping to foster the development of curriculum in a variety of disciplines that makes use of these skills, and to encourage all students, regardless of their major, to learn some data science. For example, STAT 260 (Introduction to Data Science) is a great course for anyone, even if they are not intending to complete the minor,” Wilson said.

Interested students can enroll now in the Data Science minor and can contact Wilson at Julia.Wilson@fredonia.edu for further information.

Mathematical sciences faculty drew information from major reports compiled by academic and industry leaders who gave a thorough analysis of what employers were seeking and showcased exemplary existing programs. Faculty in other departments at Fredonia were also consulted.

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