UNC to Launch New School of Data Science and Society in Fall 2022

While data science is generally thought of as a STEM field, first-year and undergraduate learning assistant Ethan Delves sees the art in the numbers.

“It deals with our perceptions of the world, which inherently come with an ethical angle and a practical angle,” Delves said. “I think of it almost like a vision company or someone who makes glasses. There’s an art to helping people see things correctly and see things as accurately as possible.”

After years of student interest, UNC has decided to open the School of Data and Social Sciences, which is expected to be fully launched in the fall of 2022.

The new addition plans to unite current data science research and resources at UNC to give students the opportunity to pursue a degree in data science.

“Over the years, many students have applied for undergraduate and master’s degree programs in data science,” said Jay Aikat, associate research professor of computer science. “And some of them have actually put together courses in computer science and STOR and other disciplines trying to create their own kind of degrees as they go along, so that’s in high demand from students. .”

Aikat, alongside Joe Canady, assistant dean of finance at Kenan-Flagler Business School, led the school’s plans two years ago at the request of then-provost Bob Blouin.

According to UNC, Aikat served on nearly every committee for the establishment of the school.

Current Provost Chris Clemens was also part of faculty planning committees and is working to help launch the school.

He said the University had strengths in data science throughout its curriculum, but still lacked in some areas.

“We don’t have an integrated program. We have courses that sometimes overlap,” Clemens said. “So what the school will be able to do is create an integrated curriculum that connects both to data science applications at the college or school of public health, but also gives a degree in data science.

Despite the lack of an official school, there are already groups on campus that engage in data science research, Aikat said.

One such research group is the Renaissance Computing Institute, for which Aikat serves as COO. The institute is a laboratory aimed at advancing data science research and using it for the public good.

[email protected] is another great initiative to promote school-wide data literacy and connect interested members of the community with resources.

Although the groups have been successful, the school will serve as a central place to bring students and researchers together for a larger collaboration, Aikat said.

“Whether you’re talking about degree programs or research, think of the school as a hub,” she said. “Because in many ways you can’t just have degree programs or research in data science, you also have them in conjunction with other disciplines.”

While the primary focus of the School of Data Science and Society is data science and data collection, it will expand into other areas as well, Clemens said.

He added that the “society” in the name refers to some of the other areas the school will cover.

Courses will teach societal applications of data science – research applied to specific industries – while exploring questions about the impact of data science on society.

“What is the ethics of collecting so much data?” said Clement. “And how does that intersect with our society and our values? And that’s going to be a big part of this school.

He said the inclusion of “society” in the name is important because students need the skills to understand both society data and the ethics surrounding data collection.

“Part of the art that I think Chapel Hill could really emphasize is developing thinkers who know how to determine what’s right, what’s right, what’s fair in a given situation,” Delves said. “And make sure that how we see the world and how we interpret the world through our data insights, our representations of that data, matches those perceptions of accuracy.”

Aikat said the University’s strengths in STEM fields will make this new school a particularly powerful resource.

“If we do this right, we could really stand out in how we define data science and society at Carolina,” Aikat said. “We could be a world leader.”


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