Sept. 13, 2022 - ABET, the nation’s most prominent accreditor of programs in science, technology and engineering, announced that Northern Kentucky University’s bachelor’s degree in data science will be the first of only two data science programs in the U.S. to earn ABET’s rigorous accreditation.
Founded in 1932 and formerly known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, ABET accredits 4,361 programs at 850 colleges and universities in 41 countries. NKU’s engineering technology programs have been ABET-accredited since 1994.
Within the last decade, data science has emerged as an important new field, leading ABET to announce it would create accreditation standards for it. NKU was selected in 2020 to be one of only two universities to undergo the inaugural accreditation process.
NKU’s data science program was only the third such bachelor’s program in the U.S. when it launched in 2013, and the first in the Greater Cincinnati area. The degree is offered in the new School of Computing and Analytics in the NKU College of Informatics. The program has a strong focus on big-data analytics and machine learning, combining a rigorous background in computer science and statistics with real-world capstone projects.
Allen Detmer, vice president and cognitive computing architect at Fidelity Investments, was able to see the work of NKU’s data science capstone students firsthand in May. The project used artificial intelligence techniques to perform sentiment analysis of social media posts.
“The capstone project with NKU students for 2021/22 academic year was a successful and rewarding experience,” Detmer said. “Their progress always exceeded our expectations and they accomplished more in the single semester. The students worked outside the box of their traditional course and drove many of the research aspects of the project with minimal guidance from Fidelity. Their final presentation gave us useful insights that will further Fidelity products.”
From the beginning, NKU leaders recognized that data science is many things at once.
“We began shaping the data science program back in 2011,” said Dr. Kevin Kirby, dean of the NKU College of Informatics. “We built a cross-disciplinary team of faculty from computer science, statistics, and business information systems, because a good data scientist must be broadly skilled, a true renaissance person.”
NKU’s data science degree has been a launchpad for successful careers. Parker Kain graduated from the program in 2019 and is now senior data scientist at 84.51º in Cincinnati. According to Kain, “the NKU Data Science program equipped me to handle the breadth of what can be asked of a data scientist. The program provides a strong base, from data manipulation and analysis to visualization and storytelling. All the while, the program provides students the leeway to explore their interests with open-ended project work while allowing them to dive deep in areas of their choosing. It provided me an amazing launching off point for my career, allowing me to understand the true data science lifecycle, which has left me well positioned to have a big impact at work.”
The ABET approach to accreditation focuses on learning outcomes, orienting it toward a set of attributes professionals must possess to excel in their field. Dr. Maureen Doyle, the chair of Computer Science Department, served on the Association of Computing Machinery’s workgroup to develop a curriculum guide for data science, and led the NKU effort. Dr. Seth Adjei in the NKU School of Computing and Analytics served as the project lead.
“The ABET accreditation review process is rigorous and thorough in its evaluation of program content, assessment, and university support,” Doyle said. “The ABET team meets with everyone from students to the university president. Our NKU colleagues from the library, provost’s office, and the Department of Mathematics and Statistics all contributed to this achievement. I’m proud of how NKU came together to make this accreditation happen.”
As a leader in data science, NKU is also working to engage K-12 students in the field. NKU is the primary university partner in WeLead CS, an initiative to expand access to accelerated early college career pathways in computing for Kentucky high school students. House Bill 680, passed by the Kentucky General Assembly and signed by the governor in May, calls for WeLead CS to “develop the nation’s first sequential high school career pathway preparing students for careers in data science.” Initial efforts are being implemented through iLEAD, a regional career academy serving high school students across five rural counties.
“The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the number of jobs requiring data-science skills will grow by 27.9 percent by 2026” Alicia Sells, the director of innovation at the Ohio Valley Education Cooperative, said. “With a national average salary for data scientists topping $176,000, it’s imperative Kentucky prepare students for these opportunities. With guidance from the NKU College of Informatics, WeLead CS has developed a dual college credit program that will provide a seamless pipeline from Kentucky’s high schools to NKU’s bachelor’s degree in data science. This talent development strategy is smart education and economic development policy for Kentucky’s future. ABET accreditation of the NKU bachelor’s degree adds great credibility to our efforts to engage schools, students, and parents.”
Since 2005, the NKU College of Informatics has brought together a wide range of information-focused fields, from journalism to software engineering. It has been a National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education since 2015.
NKU’s data science program is one of a cluster of degree programs in the college that are undergoing sudden new growth. Enrollment in NKU’s computer science and software engineering program cluster, which includes data science, is up more than 18 percent compared to one year ago.
About NKU: Founded in 1968, NKU is an entrepreneurial state university of over 16,000 students served by more than 2,000 faculty and staff on a thriving suburban campus nestled between Highland Heights, Kentucky and bustling downtown Cincinnati. We are a regionally engaged university committed to empowering our students to have fulfilling careers and meaningful lives. While we are one of the fastest-growing universities in Kentucky, our professors still know our students' names. For more information, visit nku.edu.