April 16, 2018

Purdue University launches robust, collaborative ‘Integrative Data Science Initiative’

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The creation of a “data science for all” ecosystem is the goal of a new initiative at Purdue University that will make data science education part of every student’s learning experience on campus while also boosting research and partnerships to help grow the data-driven economy.

The Integrated Data Science Initiative (IDSI) is focused on applying data science research to pressing fundamental and socially-relevant issues while establishing an educational ecosystem of data fluency to prepare students for the rapidly expanding future of a data-driven, knowledge economy.

Initiated by Jay Akridge, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and diversity, and Suresh Garimella, executive vice president for research and partnerships, the initiative has been formulated through two cross-campus working groups, forums and with input from campus-wide discussions.

"Data science – the grand interdisciplinary challenge to extract new knowledge from big data through advanced analytics­­­ – presents a transformational opportunity for Purdue," Akridge said.

IDSI adds another major goal to the university-wide Purdue Moves initiative, which was launched in 2013 to strengthen and expand the university’s preeminent reputation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The initiative’s education focus includes a transformational component to prepare every Purdue student with a fundamental understanding of data science in their chosen field. Purdue students will graduate with the deep analytical thinking skills needed to use data in new ways to reason reliably, intelligently and creatively. They will be a valuable resource for business both in the data science fields and all the sectors that are becoming more data intensive literally every day.

This will be achieved through classroom and lab activities, undergraduate research opportunities, and data-science learning communities in which undergraduates from various disciplines will have the opportunity to learn together. Jenna Rickus, associate vice provost for teaching and learning, is spearheading the educational activities.

Phil Burkholder, Rolls-Royce, president Defense Aerospace North America, said, “At Rolls-Royce, digital innovation is crucial to our current and future success as a world-leading industrial technology company. For programs such as our IntelligentEngine and R2 Data Labs, an acceleration hub for data innovation, we will need a new generation of digital experts to reach our goal of providing advanced, efficient propulsion systems. We welcome Purdue University’s expanded role in training these next-gen critical thinkers in digital innovation.”

A request for proposals to advance the data science education ecosystem has been released to faculty. Proposed projects will work across disciplines to create an integrated ecosystem of courses, curricula and data science programs.

The research arm of the data science initiative, housed in Discovery Park, has hosted four targeted data science research workshops on health care; defense; ethics, society and policy; and fundamentals, methods and algorithms. A request for proposals has been released to generate new insights and contributions from multidisciplinary teams. These areas will complement existing strengths in cyber security, digital agriculture, health and life sciences, manufacturing, transportation and infrastructure. Support for research and integrative teams, data science fellowships, and alliances with strategic partners are among the activities being coordinated by Tomás Díaz de la Rubia, Discovery Park’s chief scientist and executive director.

In support of the research and education areas, data science-focused physical sites throughout campus are envisioned – from dedicated student residential living and learning communities to faculty-industry collaboration spaces. The Convergence, a planned building in the Discovery Park District on the west end of campus, has been proposed as a home for private-sector companies to enhance their collaborations with Purdue’s data science-enabled research and education activities.

“Purdue has a culture of multidisciplinary and collaborative research engagement. When we couple that with our record of building lasting strategic partnerships, it provides us a perfect environment for data science programs to flourish,” Garimella said. “Integration and collaboration among these diverse efforts will provide the recipe for success that each seeks.”

Sunil Prabhakar, professor and head of the computer science department, has been appointed to lead this rapidly advancing initiative as the inaugural IDSI director. Working in concert with the IDSI steering committee, chaired by Patrick Wolfe, the Frederick L. Hovde Dean of the College of Science, and with Purdue faculty input, Prabhakar will guide and maximize the impact of the teaching and research initiatives, identify collaborations across the campus, help secure and allocate resources from public and private sources, and provide a central focus and hub for the university’s many data science activities.

“Dr. Prabhakar has the background and experience to fully engage an extensive community of data science experts, from professors, scientists and scholars to government and private-sector companies,” Akridge said. “He is a scholar in database management, with the leadership skills and respect across our campus to successfully launch this exciting new initiative.” 

Prabhakar also will coordinate with Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP) to develop infrastructure support for data science research and teaching across campus, and he will work with the Office of Corporate and Global Partnerships to engage private and public partners.   

“Purdue has all the right people and experience to impact this emerging field,” Prabhakar said. “Faculty and staff are excited and passionate about preparing our students and equipping our researchers with the tools they need to be successful in this pervasive and inclusive field. It’s exciting to spearhead a project that has the potential through research and education to touch the lives of so many students while having a direct economic impact.”

By 2020, an estimated 2.72 million new U.S. job postings will seek workers with skills in data science and analytics according to a report by the Business-Higher Education Forum, a nonprofit membership group of Fortune 500 CEOs and college leaders, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, a large consulting and auditing company.

“Data science is applicable to every major and each student attending Purdue, and we intend on fulfilling the expectation that Purdue graduates are ably prepared with the analytical skills they will need in the data job market,” Prabhakar said.

Prabhakar's research lies in the area of data management. His current research is focused on developing novel database systems for managing probabilistic or uncertain data, and ensuring authenticity and integrity of outsourced databases. In his earlier work, he addressed performance issues in large-scale, modern database applications such as multimedia, moving-object, and sensor databases. The efficient execution of I/O is a critical problem for these applications. Prabhakar's interest also lies in the design and development of digital rights management for databases using digital watermarking techniques for structured (e.g. relational databases) and semi-structured (e.g., XML) data.

Prabhakar received an NSF CAREER award in 1999 for his work on large-scale data management. He was named a University Faculty Scholar at Purdue in 2009, is widely published and holds patents for rights assessment over digital data through watermarking, and ensuring the authenticity of data stored in untrusted environments.

Prabhakar received his bachelor’s degree (BTech) from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi in Electrical Engineering in 1990, and both his master’s degree and Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1998. 

Writer: Pamela Burroff-Murr, burroff@purdue.edu 

Sources: Jay Akridge, akridge@purdue.edu 

Suresh Garimella, garimell@purdue.edu

Sunil Prabhakar, sunil@purdue.edu

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