Data science is the extraction of actionable knowledge directly from data through either a process of discovery, or hypothesis formulation and hypothesis testing. 

— National Institute of Standards and Technology

The creation of a “data science for all” ecosystem is the thrust of an integrative initiative at Purdue University to make data science education part of every student’s learning experience on campus while also boosting research and partnerships to help grow a data-driven 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, IDSI has been formulated through two cross-campus working groups, forums and input from campus-wide discussions. Advancing the objectives of Purdue Moves, IDSI will nurture data fluency among students and use data science to understand pressing fundamental and socially-relevant issues.

“Data science — the grand interdisciplinary challenge to extract new knowledge from big data through advanced analytics­­­ — presents a transformational opportunity for Purdue,” Akridge says.

Phil Burkholder, president of Defense Aerospace North America for Rolls-Royce, says that his company welcomes the university’s expanded role in training students for a new data economy. “At Rolls-Royce, digital innovation is crucial to our current and future success as a world-leading industrial technology company,” he says. “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.”

Inaugural director

Sunil Prabhakar

Sunil Prabhakar

Sunil Prabhakar, professor and head of the Computer Science Department, will lead IDSI as its inaugural 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 be charged with guiding and maximizing the impact of teaching and research initiatives, identifying collaborations across campus, helping secure and allocate resources from public and private sources, and providing focus to 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 says. “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 says. “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.”

Educational ecosystem

Jenna Rickus

Jenna Rickus

One of IDSI’s two main goals is for all Purdue students to develop a fundamental understanding of data science in their chosen fields. Jenna Rickus, associate vice provost for teaching and learning, is leading efforts to enhance data education through classroom and lab activities, undergraduate research opportunities and undergraduate learning communities.

Data skills are increasingly important to employers; 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. “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,” Prabhakar says.

As a first step in developing a data-oriented educational environment, the Office of the Provost is inviting cross-disciplinary faculty teams to propose new or revised courses, curricula or programs. Proposals are due April 30.

Targeted research

Tomás Díaz de la Rubia

Tomás Díaz de la Rubia

IDSI’s other main goal is to build upon Purdue’s existing research strengths in the data-reliant fields of cybersecurity, digital agriculture, health and life sciences, manufacturing, transportation and infrastructure.

Tomás Díaz de la Rubia, chief scientist and executive director of Discovery Park, is overseeing the initiative’s research activities, which include funding for multidisciplinary research projects in the initial focus areas of healthcare; defense; ethics, society and policy; and fundamentals, methods and algorithms. “We encourage high-risk, high-payoff proposals that describe game-changing, transformative ideas,” Díaz de la Rubia says. Project proposals are due April 19.

Future plans in the research arena include data science fellowships, alliances with strategic partners and spaces for faculty-industry collaboration. 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 says. “Integration and collaboration among these diverse efforts will provide the recipe for success that each seeks.”

Writer: Pamela Burroff-Murr, director, Research Communications (burroff@purdue.edu), https://bit.ly/2qBhSFM

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