Regents approve new undergraduate major in Data Science

October 11, 2019 By Chris Barncard

The UW System Board of Regents approved a new data science major Friday, opening the door for University of Wisconsin–Madison undergraduates to study a field tied to one of the country’s fastest-growing professions.

Students may immediately begin taking courses that will count toward the new degree. Beginning in fall 2020, students will be able to declare the major within the School of Computer, Data & Information Sciences (CDIS), home to the departments of Statistics and Computer Sciences and the Information School. The newly created school – along with the American Family Insurance Data Science Institute established earlier in 2019 – are part of UW–Madison’s commitment to leading research and education in information technology and big data.

Students majoring in data science will learn to apply computational, statistical, and mathematical methods to data in order to solve real-world problems. Data science courses will hone skills for managing, processing, modeling and presenting data, and teach critical thinking skills for addressing social and ethical issues related to data-driven and algorithmically aided decision making.

These skills and competencies are in great demand as public agencies, private businesses and non-profit organizations consider how to use data to tackle social issues, solve business problems and answer complex questions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rise of data science needs will create 11.5 million job openings by 2026.

Data science students will pair general education requirements in either a bachelor of science or bachelor of arts degree with foundational courses in data modeling, programming, and ethics. Each student will complete some coursework in machine learning, advanced computing, statistical modeling, and linear algebra. Consistent with other majors in the College of Letters & Science, the major can be customized to individual interests and goals through a range of electives and can easily be paired with other majors from across campus.

Photo: Portrait of Tom Erickson

Tom Erickson Photo: Bryce Richter

“Data science permeates virtually every discipline and profession today,” says Tom Erickson, director of CDIS. “We’re excited to offer this new undergraduate major, complementing our existing master of science-statistics: data science degree as a part of our plan to ensure students across campus and professionals across the state of Wisconsin and beyond are capable of skills for collecting, shaping, storing, managing, and analyzing data.”

“We used an innovative, interdisciplinary process to develop the major, which pulls together courses from multiple departments to support cutting-edge learning” says Kristin Eschenfelder, associate director of CDIS. “We drew on both national standards and the unique resources available to us at UW–Madison.”

As the major grows, the program committee, led by Bret Larget, professor of statistics and botany, plans to build connections to many majors, including economics, engineering, business, journalism, linguistic sciences, biology, agricultural economics and others.

The Department of Statistics will offer the undergraduate data science degree and the master of science-statistics: data science degree. For more information, email dsmajor@stat.wisc.edu.