W&M Explores Building a School of Computing and Data Science – W&M News

William & Mary are exploring the possibility of creating a new academic unit in computer science and data science, Provost Peggy Agouris told Visitors Council members on Thursday.

The effort stems from increased student interest in applied sciences, computer science and data science at William & Mary and the university’s commitment to its strategic plan to support anticipated needs in the Virginia workforce.

To cope with the expected growth, Agouris has formed an exploratory design team with representatives from all five W&M schools, while three main departments are working to develop a model for the proposed academic unit, which could potentially be a separate school. .

“It is critical to consider how best to organize these growing units because it can have serious implications for our ability to provide education resources that W&M offers across disciplines and to attract and expand key partnerships,” said Agouris, who presented the effort during the meeting of the Board of Visitors Committee on Academic Affairs at the W&M Alumni House. “The right organizational structure can re-imagine our value in the computational and data space. It can foster important relationships at the state and federal levels, with other institutions, with friends and donors, and with like-minded organizations that could be new partners for us. My hope is that it will deepen our strengths and expand our horizons ”.

The university has experienced an explosion of interest in computational sciences in recent years, and computational skills are also increasingly used in other disciplines. Over the past 10 years, interest in computational fields has more than tripled at W&M, from 211 majors declared in just two fields (computer science and mathematics) to 738 in six (computer science, data science, mathematics, computational and applied mathematics) and statistics, business analysis – data science and business analysis – supply chain).

The growth in those fields reflects an overall increase in student interest in STEM fields at W&M. From 2011 to 2022, the number of STEM graduates at W&M more than doubled, from 284 to 693. Looking only at the last two years, the number of computer science degrees awarded by the university rose from 78 to 93. In il data science program, which just started in 2020, the number of degrees awarded has risen from eight in 2021 to 35 in 2022.

At the same time, data has become increasingly important to the university in general. With data as one of the four initiatives outlined in the Vision 2026 strategic plan, William & Mary is committed to expanding its “presence and influence in computational and data sciences … consistent with student demand and the needs of the workforce. of Virginia “.

“This school represents an opportunity to boldly grow the William & Mary community in new directions, serve new student populations and showcase the incredible talent of our teachers and researchers to a new national and international audience,” said Dan Runfola, assistant professor of applied sciences. “By integrating our computational activities into a new unit, we recognize the unique challenges and opportunities these rapidly evolving fields present and gain the ability to nimbly respond to new opportunities without disrupting our ability to offer liberal arts education at the highest level. world”.

Formal discussions on a possible computer science and data science unit at W&M began in the spring of 2022 and developed organically, Agouris said, with faculty members initially raising the idea. After an ad hoc design team with representatives from the university’s arts and sciences, economics, education, law and marine sciences was formed to explore the possibilities, its members began conducting research on similar facilities at other universities and to consider what might make sense for William & Maria.

Faculty leaders from the departments of computer science, applied science, and the data science program are now working on a model based on that research. This semester, the model will be refined as feedback is received from various stakeholders, including the Faculty Assembly.

The model and action plan are expected to be finalized in the spring, with the aim of presenting them to the Board of Visitors and the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia in the fall of 2023.

The exploratory effort is part of William & Mary’s ongoing work to increase its offerings in computational sciences as career opportunities and student interest grow.

Currently, the university offers undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees in computer science and a minor in computer science. In 2020, W&M began offering a data science degree and subsequently created the popular Jump Start Data Science summer program which can lead to an accelerated minor. The Department of Applied Sciences has a well-established doctoral program that also offers a data science concentration. Applied science also offers master’s and master’s degree options.

Increasing the number of students with data science and computational skills is also a goal of the federal and state government. In 2019, the university joined the Commonwealth Tech Talent initiative, which seeks to increase the number of Virginians with computer science degrees. The Tech Talent Investment Program provides funding to participating Virginia universities and colleges to help expand that “technology talent pipeline.”

While preparing interested students to enter that pipeline is one of the key factors in exploring a new computer science and data science unit at W&M, Agouris said it’s all still in the early stages and the university is doing due diligence to see what might be the best fit for the university.

“We want to make sure this makes sense for our university based on the growth we are experiencing, the associated demands and also what we hear from our academic community,” said Agouris.

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