New data science major fills growing need
January 22, 2018   //   By:   //   Real-world Learning

There is data about virtually everything.

Monthly sales numbers. Snowfall statistics. Advertising click-through rates. Facts, figures, predictions.

Engineers consult data groups to determine project direction; retail distributors examine buying trends; and marketers follow online data analytics to reach the correct audience.

In the words of PayPal co-founder Max Levchyn, “the world is now awash in data, and we can see consumers in a lot clearer ways.”

Well, all of this data is great, but someone needs to pull it together, make sense of it and make it accessible to an end user. Those ‘someones’ are in high demand.

“Students can’t be trained fast enough to fill voids in the world of data science,” said Barry Wittman, associate professor of computer science at Elizabethtown College, where a new interdisciplinary data science major has been introduced. With the backlog of data more than five years deep, he said, graduating majors will have limitless career options.

“Data science is the intersection of mathematics, computer science and some other discipline,” Wittman explained. Depending on their focus—business, engineering, communications, biology or some other area—data scientists are sought after by banks, big retail, NASA, laboratories, research companies and media.

“It’s an undergraduate degree that can lead directly to the workplace.”

Data science is super-hot in communications right now due to social media, where, he said, “users generate more data than you can imagine” and, also of recent interest, is the massive amount of data associated with digital humanities. The need is great, he said, to catalog the avalanche of music, art, writing, video.

There are a wide array of career possibilities that stem from data science.”

“We encourage students to get a minor in the subject they want to apply their degree to,” Wittman said. “Their capstone will be real data from a real company to solve a real problem.”

Last year, in Sylvester Williams’ data analytics capstone, two students worked on a project for a healthcare firm in Reading, Pennsylvania. “They were able to develop a solution using data analytics and saved the firm $5 million,” said the co-director of College’s interdisciplinary center for data analytics. “The firm wanted to hire the students full time, but they had already accepted jobs with other firms. Data analytics is powerful and can produce tremendous results …

“As a society we can’t rely solely on people’s intuition to solve problems and come up with creative solutions,” Williams said. “Using data to assist in this process can produce solutions that are more reliable and sustainable in the long term.”

Nicolette Siermine ’17 graduated from Elizabethtown College, last year, with a degree in applied mathematics and a minor in data analytics. Though the College was not yet offering the data science major, Siermine took most of the components of the degree and had a job lined up two months before Commencement. She works in the purchasing and procurement department at Clark Associates, a food service equipment supplier in Lancaster.

“There are a wide array of career possibilities that stem from data science,” Siermine said. Students interested in the sciences, for instance, would be valuable in medical or pharmaceutical fields; students with concentrations in communications could find employment in web analytics. With a focus on computer science, the degree would definitely be useful in developing software and in web development.

Siermine’s preference was the business world. “I analyze data and use problem solving skills to help the manager with decisions on price and inventory,” she said. “Data science is very hands-on, dealing business digital marketing online concept and internet marketing with the numbers and applying it to real-world problems.”

First-year students presently enrolled at Elizabethtown College could switch their major to the data science major, to graduate in 2021, but, noted Wittman, it would be difficult to do so and still graduate in four years.

The aim is toward producing data science majors for graduation in 2022.

“We live in an information age,” said Williams, “and firms have to analyze data to predict future actions. This phenomenon drives the need for new majors that focus on analyzing data.”

About the Author :

E.A. (Elizabeth) Harvey is the communications manager and news editor at Elizabethtown College. She has worked in the Office of Marketing and Communications since 2008, after more than two decades as a newspaper feature writer. She holds a bachelor's degree in corporate communication from Elizabethtown College.

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