Inaugural online graduate program teaches data science with heart

RogerwoodardRoger Woodard

Combining Notre Dame’s mission to be a force for good with great data science, the inaugural semester of the University’s online Master of Science in Data Science program has been a success from the outset, when a lecture from one of the world’s most prominent data scientists captivated the first cohort of students in August.

Hadley Wickham, chief scientist at RStudio and an adjunct professor of statistics at the University of Auckland, Stanford University, and Rice University, was the perfect speaker to kick off the program, said Director Roger Woodard.

“Not only are we doing great data science—technical stuff—but we also focus on doing things that align with Notre Dame’s mission. We make sure that we concentrate on the ethical use of data science,” Woodard said. “We are trying to do things that are good for the community.”

Wickham, who developed several packages that extend the usefulness of the R language, a type of statistics software computing system, worked with the City of South Bend’s code enforcement department to analyze data surrounding the characteristics of houses that were demolished. By understanding the data, officials can predict what houses would likely be demolished in the future. They can then work with homeowners to correct any issues and prevent demolition.

Through projects like this, Notre Dame’s program offers unique opportunities to its students, Woodard said. “Nonprofits or governmental agencies get something they wouldn’t get otherwise—to have their data analyzed—and our students get something they can put on their resume, so they can go work for AT&T or Facebook and do similar types of projects.”

The half-time, 21-month degree program is completed mostly online through a custom-built digital platform that incorporates a social aspect to online learning. Offered by the Department of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics (ACMS), the program also includes in-person immersion weekends like the one at which Wickham spoke. Notre Dame faculty from ACMS, psychology, computer science and engineering, and the Mendoza College of Business teach the courses.

Wickham is impressed with the structure of the master’s program. “Notre Dame really thought about it, and developed the courses well,” he said.

Some of the program’s 35 students will gather again in January at the Notre Dame California campus in Palo Alto, where they’ll meet with data scientists and other industry experts.

Applications for the next cohort of students will be accepted until April 15, 2018.

Originally published by Deanna Csomo McCool at science.nd.edu on December 21, 2017.