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Data Science

Purdue to Embed Data Science into Every Major

Recognizing that data science is becoming the lingua franca of the 21st century, Purdue University has kicked off a new initiative to embed it in courses, physical spaces and industry collaborations. According to campus officials, the new Integrative Data Science Initiative (IDSI) will make data science education a part of every student's learning experiences on campus, no matter what field he or she is studying. This follows on the university's shift in 2013 to strengthen its institutional vision, "Purdue Moves," in the area of STEM education.

Sunil Prabhakar, head of the computer science department, has been named to lead the program. Working with an IDSI steering committee, he will oversee teaching and research efforts, seek out multi-disciplinary opportunities, drum up resources to fund the work and provide a central point of contact for the various data science efforts.

"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, in a prepared statement.

Among the first tasks is solicitation of "grand challenge" proposals from among Purdue's faculty to "apply data science to pressing, socially relevant issues." The university has committed to funding several data science research projects for between $100,000 and $150,000 each over two years in four areas:

  • Healthcare;
  • Defense and security;
  • Ethics, society and policy; and
  • Fundamentals, methods and algorithms.

That last category seeks projects focused on gaining a better understanding of the core concepts in data science, including "information, knowledge, fairness, trust, risk, collusion, privacy and information-efficient computation."

Extra credit will be given to those proposals that call for researchers from more than one discipline to work together, such as research that explores a problem involving policy and defense-related data science or the use of data science fundamentals to a health-related problem.

The idea for a data science infusion into all aspects of the university had quick turnaround. Last semester the institution held a series of town hall meetings, followed by two working group reports, recommendations and the formation of a campuswide steering committee.

The university is also pondering creation of "data science-focused" physical sites for its campus, including student residences and learning communities along with faculty-industry collaboration spaces. The Convergence, a building planned for university's Discovery Park, may become the home for private-sector companies to collaborate with Purdue research and education activities.

One industry partner, the head of defense and aerospace in North America at Rolls-Royce, praised the concept: "Digital innovation is crucial to our current and future success as a world-leading industrial technology company," said Phil Burkholder. "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."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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