We live in a world where data drives everything and one college in Northeast Arkansas has decided to expand its offerings in this discipline. Lyon College in Batesville recently approved the addition of a data science major, making it the first private institution in Arkansas to offer this path. It will be offered starting in the fall of 2020.
The major will be available in addition to a computer science degree. Associate Professor of Computer Science David Sonnier said computer science and data science will overlap in subject matter even though they are two distinct disciplines. Data science, he said, focuses more on algorithms and how they apply to data, combining mathematics and computing.
The program will lay out the essential tools for data analytics and allow students to pursue one of three tracks: science, business and economics or social sciences/humanities/fine arts.
Provost Dr. Melissa Taverner told Talk Business & Politics the impetus to develop this program came from the faculty, not the administration. The goal is to have 5-10 students in the program next year, she added.
“The idea that data is accessible to everyone is a new idea,” she said. “This major is applicable to a number of fields.”
The college opted for data science as a major over data analytics because data science is more interdisciplinary while data analytics is more purely statistical. Data science is wider in scope and thus offers broader insight.
“We see the benefit of the data science major not only as a stand-alone program,” Taverner said. “But also one that will be meaningfully combined with a wide range of other majors that are beginning to use data analytics as part of their normal functions and processes.”
She said these majors include business, psychology, English and a host of other disciplines.
“That’s my favorite part of data science,” Director of Institutional Research Andrew English said. “You can have a career in nearly every field.”
Data scientists develop models and algorithms to provide information and predictions to decision-makers, he said. They also report and interpret data, create dashboards and data workflows or pipelines, mine data and much more.
“Data scientists are also some of the main pioneers of machine learning and artificial intelligence,” English said.
For the science track, students will take three science classes at the 200 level or above, and for each class, the students will take a data science lab with a course-related project.
There won’t be any additional faculty hired as a result of the program. The main obstacles to developing the program were access technology and access to data sets. Faculty members have navigated these obstacles in the development of the curriculum, Taverner added.
“We have some very creative and thoughtful faculty members,” she said.