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


William & Mary is exploring the possibility of creating a new academic unit in Computing and Data Science, Vice President Peggy Aguris told Visitor Council members Thursday.

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

To meet the expected growth, Aguris has formed an exploratory design team with representatives from all five W&M schools, while three core departments are developing a model for the proposed academic unit, potentially a separate school.

said Aguris, who presented the effort during a Visitors Council Committee on Academic Affairs meeting at the W&M Alumni House. “The right organizational structure can reimagine our value in the computational and data space. It can strengthen important relationships at the state and federal levels, with other institutions, with friends and donors, and with like-minded organizations that may be our new partners. I hope it deepens our strength and broadens our horizons. “.

The university has seen an increase in interest in computational sciences in recent years, and computational skills are increasingly used in other disciplines. Over the past 10 years, interest in computational fields has more than tripled at W&M, moving from 211 declared majors in just two fields (computer science and mathematics) to 738 majors in six areas (computer science, data science, mathematics, computing and applied mathematics, and statistics and business analytics). – Data Science, Business Analytics – Supply Chain).

Growth in these areas reflects a general increase in student interest in STEM fields at W&M. From 2011 to 2022, the number of graduates in STEM majors at W&M more than doubled, rising from 284 to 693. Looking at just the past two years, the number of computer science degrees awarded by the university has increased from 78 to 93. In In The data science program, which was just starting in 2020, increased the number of degrees awarded from eight in 2021 to 35 degrees in 2022.

At the same time, data is becoming increasingly important for the university in general. With data as one of four initiatives outlined in the Vision 2026 Strategic Plan, William & Mary committed to expanding its “presence and impact in computing and data sciences… in line with student demand and Virginia’s workforce needs.”

“This school represents an opportunity to boldly grow the William and Mary community in new directions, serving new student groups and bringing to light the incredible talents of our teachers and researchers to a new local and international audience,” said Dan Ranvola, Associate Professor of Applied Sciences. . “By integrating our computing activities into a new unit, we recognize the unique challenges and opportunities presented by these rapidly evolving fields and gain the ability to respond quickly to new opportunities without disrupting our ability to deliver a global liberal arts education.”

Aguris said formal discussions about a potential computing and data science unit at W&M began in the spring of 2022 and developed organically, with faculty initially raising the idea. After setting up a special design team comprising representatives from the university’s arts and sciences, business, education, law, and marine sciences to explore the possibilities, its members began researching similar structures at other universities and considering what might make sense for William & Mary.

College leaders from the departments of Computer Science, Applied Science, and the Data Science program are now crafting a model based on this research. This semester, the model will be improved as feedback is received from various stakeholders, including the College Board.

The form and business plan are expected to be completed in the spring, with the goal of submitting them to the Virginia Board of Visitors and the State Board of Higher Education in the fall of 2023.

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

The university currently offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in computer science as well as a minor in computer science. In 2020, W&M began offering a bachelor’s degree in data science and later created the popular Jump Start Data Science summer program that can lead to an accelerated high school program. The Department of Applied Sciences has a well-established PhD program that also offers a concentration in data science. Applied sciences also offer bachelor’s and master’s degree options.

Increasing the number of students who possess data science and computational skills is also a focus 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-related degrees. The Tech Talent Investment Program provides funding to participating Virginia universities and colleges to help expand the Tech Talent Pipeline.

While preparing interested students to enter this pipeline is one of the main drivers of exploring a new computing and data science unit at W&M, Agouris said it is still in the early stages and that the university is doing its due diligence to see what might be best suited for the university.

“We want to make sure this makes sense for our university based on the growth we are seeing, the requirements associated with it, as well as what we hear from our academic community,” said Aguris.

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