NKU launches Midwest's first B.S. in data science

For immediate release…
Monday – Sept. 2, 2013

By Feoshia H. Davis


HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. - Big Data is about the small things. It’s a social media status update. It’s a food purchase. It’s an email. It’s a doctor’s flu diagnosis.

It’s a pattern.

Big Data is all around us. With the rise of technology, the speed of data processing and the myriad ways to share our lives, small things add up to massive amounts of data. Harnessing, analyzing and presenting that data pinpoints disease outbreaks, shapes Website ads and even helps us discover new movies and music.

Northern Kentucky University is training a new generation of tech-savvy students who will collect and interpret all that data. This helps businesses, healthcare providers and manufacturers become more efficient, solve problems and become better attuned to the markets they serve.

This fall NKU launched its (http://datascience.nku.edu) Bachelor of Science in Data Science, the first bachelor’s of its type in the Midwest.

It’s a degree whose time has come, said James McGuffee, chair of the NKU’s computer science department. “This is truly a 21st century degree,” he said. “Data science is born out of the reality of the modern century we are in.”

Data scientists are in high demand across the country and in northern Kentucky. The area is home to companies such as Macy’s, Kroger and Procter & Gamble, where data science is a growing part of doing smart business. Meanwhile, a 2011 McKinsey Global Institute (http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/business_technology/big_data_the_next_frontier_for_innovation) study found the U.S. could face a shortage of up to 190,000 data scientists by 2018.

Businesses and organizations of all sizes tap into data science. Efforts range from refining customer loyalty programs to discovering efficiency-saving processes in major manufacturing operations. Global business financial service firm Deloitte estimates that more than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have data science initiatives underway.

Better business decisions based on data science

The NKU data science program is the latest addition to the College of Informatics. Data scientists are a new breed of technologist who possess sophisticated mathematical, communication, analytical, business and computational skills. The new NKU degree focuses on all aspects of that work. The program’s goal is to shape data scientists who are well-rounded and can contribute to fact-based decision-making across industries.

Demand for good data scientists is growing because of the vast amounts of information collected and created every day. A universally citied data science statistic says that 90 percent of the data in the world today have been created in the last two years alone. That’s a lot of information. Its flow won’t ebb anytime soon.

“The rise of big data has three components,” said James Walden, NKU associate professor of computer science. “There is volume, which is the vast amount of data. There is velocity, which means the rate at which you are collecting data. Finally there is variety, or the collection of many types of data.”

The data scientist’s value comes from sifting through the waves of information, finding relevant patterns and presenting that information in a digestible form, he said. From there, businesses and organizations can make better-informed decisions about improving products and services, reaching target groups or eliminating inefficiencies.

Effectively analyzing big data sets isn’t just confined to business use. It reaches into countless other areas such as natural and social sciences, humanities, government and healthcare.

“With such massive amounts of data, you have a lot of noise,” McGuffee said. “When you have large amounts of data, much of that is not useful. Being able to separate and analyze that data is a very valuable skill.”

NKU data science degree specs

The NKU data science program includes a Business Analytics track and a Computation Intensive track. The rigorous bachelor’s degree requires a solid math foundation. Incoming students need an ACT math score of at least 25 or an SAT math score of 570. They also must complete high schools math courses including algebra I and II, geometry and trigonometry before being accepted.

Once beginning the program, data science students will take courses in:

  • Calculus and linear algebra
  • Economics
  • Computer programing
  • Database management
  • Data Mining
  • Data Visualization
  • Computer Security, and more
  • Communication

Data science students will complete a final capstone project before graduation where they’ll gather, condition, explore, model and interpret a big data set. Students will be working with real data to help solve problems facing local organizations.

“Most people in data science today have been self-made,” said NKU College of Informatics Advisory Board Member Milen Mahadevan, of dunnhumby (http://www.dunnhumby.com/us), an international marketing company that specializes in data science. “This degree brings together the hard and soft elements of data science. It’s a very well-rounded degree.”

Homegrown data scientists a plus for northern Kentucky companies

Tim Platt, vice president of information systems at Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, uses data science principles to find inefficiencies in the manufacturing process. Companywide, big data is utilized in business process optimization, safety research and development, and marketing. The skills students will master through the NKU data science degree are just the type many area employers are looking for, Platt said.

“There is significant power in the contributions someone skilled in this area can bring to the table,” said Platt, who also serves on the College of Informatics advisory board.

With such demand for data science skills, having home-grown data scientists gives local companies a recruitment edge, he adds. “Someone seeking an IT job is going to have a significant number of local offers, so we’re seeing less people willing to move for a job. To really keep a long-term employee, we need to draw within a certain mile radius. NKU is about 10 minutes away. If we create a qualified and capable population of data scientists nearby, there’s a good chance they are going to be around a lot longer.”


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