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A Web Letter from the Office of the Provost - August 2019

By Eric Bender

Teaching and Learning

New certificate in applied data science launched

While universities are answering the call for data science and data-literate graduates, Purdue not only is helping meet the demand, but also is a pioneer in addressing an additional need: individuals who understand how to apply data specific to their discipline.

The new interdisciplinary initiative will begin this fall semester in the form of an applications in data science certificate. The Indiana Commission for Higher Education approved the certificate this spring.

Purdue's 18th certificate, it is for undergraduates and one of only two not tied to a specific college or school. The other is the entrepreneurship certificate, after which the new one is modeled.

Jenna Rickus, associate vice provost for teaching and learning, says this high-tech society needs three kinds of graduates:

  • Data scientists.
  • Those who are data-literate, who understand the algorithms operating behind Facebook advertising or a decision on their bank loan.
  • Those who can apply data science in the context of their major.

"Data science and even artificial intelligence are so influential in every field that we need people who can provide a two-way communication bridge and analysis between the data science and the overarching goals of the business or organization," Rickus says.

For example, states are using data to assess schools, teachers and student success. Teachers and school administrators need to understand this data and be involved in how it is collected and analyzed. The same is true in agriculture, where data is used in unprecedented ways to make production decisions. In management, individuals are needed as an interface between data scientists and project leaders who have a better understanding of the big picture.

The Purdue certificate is designed to be accessible to any student on campus who earns 16 credit hours for a foundation in statistical methods and computation; ethics and digital citizenship; and data literacy management and analytics. Six of the credits will focus on applications of data science specific to majors, with more than 170 choices such as genetics, classroom assessment, principles of epidemiology, behavioral economics and data visualization.

The Provost's Office and the Integrative Data Science Initiative will manage and administer the certificate. A curriculum committee, with representatives from every college and school, identified the courses and will continue to provide advice and insight as the certificate evolves.

"We consider this to be version 1.0," Rickus said, noting that the courses offered are a curation of those that already exist, some of which were recently modified or created as part of the Integrative Data Science Initiative. "The fall launch is considered a soft opening; students in the Hillenbrand Hall living learning community called The Data Mine are likely candidates. We have informed our head advisors, and this fall will reach out to educate our all our advisors."

Version 2.0 is expected to incorporate The Data Mine in the certificate, expand the marketing to students and create additional course options.

At the same time that this initiative is focused on undergraduate students, Purdue also is working to reach graduates already in the workforce.

"Industry is telling us that even recent graduates, those out of college for just five years, need to learn how to apply data science," Rickus said. "To answer this call for our own graduate students, our College of Science at Purdue West Lafayette this summer launched what it calls online connector modules — five-week, online, one-credit modules covering data science foundational topics. Purdue Online and Purdue Global also are working to address this challenge for people in the workforce.

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