Data science program awaiting accreditation


Previously just a lofty idea, New College’s first master’s program in data science has begun its test run this semester, with the application for accreditation turned in on Sept. 15.  The college will have to wait until Dec. 6 for the final accreditation decision.

In the meantime, courses intended for the data science program are already underway. New College undergraduates as well as non-degree seeking students are attending, or “proto-typing,” the courses this semester. Among the students are those who have just earned their bachelor’s degree and some who have already established careers in the data science field. Many of them plan are interested in applying for the program once accredited. “We’ve taken only a couple of students, maybe one, who comes right out of undergraduate school without some type of work history,” said Professor Patrick McDonald, director of the data science program and one of the nine professors who will teach the master’s level courses. “It’s better if people have some type of work history. Then they have a much more informed position regarding what it is they want out of data science.”

Four new professors hired for the program are teaching courses this semester, including Professors Simant Dube, Gary Kalmanovich, Matt Lepinski and Mike Sutherland. Each of them was hired over the past year in order to accommodate the anticipated program as well as expand the computer science resources, an increasingly popular area of concentration (AOC). Professor Dube and Professor Sutherland are teaching Statistical Inference for Science, as well as Dealing with Data, an introductory data science courses created for and available to students of all AOCs. Professor Kalmanovich is teaching Introduction to Algorithms and Algorithms for Data Science, and Professor Lepinski is teaching Introduction to Programming in Python and Computer Networks this semester, the latter of which has a prerequisite of one year of programming.

The cost of the program has still not been fully hammered out, but some numbers are being thrown around amongst faculty and the state. In-state students are tentatively slated to pay roughly $460 per credit hour, while out-of-state students may be looking at a price tag of $1,170 per credit hour. For the current semester however, non-degree seeking students are not paying for the courses they attend.

Should the program be granted accreditation in December, an equivalency exam may be offered to the non-degree seeking students to waive the required courses that they are currently taking without credit. Graham “Tanner” Robart, (’09), is one of the students proto-typing this semester’s classes and planning on applying for the program once it reaches accreditation. Robart graduated from New College with a neuroscience and computer science AOC two years ago, and returned for the chance to participate in the program.

“It’s of personal interest to me,” Robart said. “I’m excited to work with the same professors, and new professors as well, in a more advanced context.” Robart is planning on taking the equivalency exam, but, “in the meantime, it’s like, why not take these courses?”

Attending New College as a non-degree seeking student, Robart said, is a strange experience for an alum. “I don’t spend a lot of time on campus. It’s weird to see people that I was living with in third court who are now thesising.” The chance to work one-on-one with professors in close quarters is a big draw for Robart, who appreciates the current 1:2 professor to student ratio in the program.

For now, the data science master’s program has to rely on patience until December. In the meantime, Professor McDonald and Professor Sutherland are working on coordinating a statistics consulting group in the coming months to offer help to other students. The group would be composed of current data science program members who would serve as a tutoring resource for other New College students. This could be a possible addition to the Quantitative Resource Center (QRC) or a separate resource. “[The program is] to get us to get our hands dirty and learn how to work with different piece of data from across a variety of different fields and topics,” Robart said.

Should the December decision go well, McDonald has plans lined up for the rest of the school year, including an Independent Study Project (ISP) with Professor Flakne on Ethics for Data Science, and spring semester courses such as Statistical Inference II and Machine Learning and Optimization. “I’m really excited about [the ISP],” McDonald said. “I think I’m gonna be here in January so I can sit in on that.”

“In between [now and the decision], a lot of things have to be constructed,” Professor McDonald said. “Networks have to be built involving where students come from, marketing materials have to be developed. There are additional structures that I’m sure we have not addressed yet … and there are all the other things that we forgot.”

“There is already a data science seminar that will run throughout the year,” McDonald added. The first seminar is planned for Sept. 18 at 4:00 p.m. Each seminar will bring in speakers across an expanse of topics within the data science field. The pieces for the program are falling in place; the rest of the semester is a waiting game.

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