Howard U. plans to tackle societal problems with new data research center

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Following an announcement last week of a new research center dedicated to data analytics and research, Howard University’s chief academic officer told EdScoop the institution is aiming to attract more faculty and bring together existing research efforts to address deep societal issues using data.

Although faculty at the historically Black university in Washington D.C. already incorporate data and analytics into research and coursework, it does not have a school or college dedicated to applied data science. The Center for Applied Data Science and Analytics, announced after a $5 million donation from Mastercard, can serve as a “focal point” for any research or education efforts, Chief Academic Officer Anthony Wutoh said.

To emphasize interdisciplinary research, Howard intends to recruit data science experts in various fields for tenure-track positions who will teach in their respective disciplines and work with the data science center. Researchers can investigate how to use data to counteract bias in algorithms used to generate financial markers like credit scores, as well as in technologies like artificial intelligence.

Wutoh said one of the center’s goals is to prepare students to tackle challenges in the workforce using data. Howard is also preparing to start a master’s degree in applied data science, which the new faculty will help design.

“Part of what we’re hoping to accomplish is to really add to the diversity and the expertise in this field so that as graduates are trained and leave our programs and enter the work field that they will be cognizant of the impact that they could have,” Wutoh said.

Since Howard does not have a data science college, the center can serve as a home for students and faculty already involved in data science research, he added.

“We knew that we could probably create a strong academic program housed in computer science or housed in information systems,” he said. “But we thought that having an interdisciplinary program with faculty that would be contributing from all over the university, including humanities and social sciences faculty, would really create the the most comprehensive program for our students and help provide them with the tools that would be necessary to be as competitive and to be as innovative as we think they would need to be as we enter into the the next generation of data science and data analytics.”

Higher education institutions are filling out their data science course offerings to meet demand for data skills. The University of Connecticut recently developed a new data science master’s degree and  partnered with the online learning platform Springboard to offer courses, including some on cybersecurity. Other schools have recently launched master’s degrees in data science, including the University of Rochester and the University of California San Diego. The University of Virginia broke ground this week on a new $35 million School of Data Science building, Virginia Business reported.

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