Whether reading the latest headlines, job reports or economic forecasts, “data science” or “big data” is everywhere, from social media to AI (Artificial Intelligence) to politics. According to the Statistics and Computing Journal, the two disciplines of statistics and computing are the core technologies of data science. This area of high growth and emerging technology is the impetus behind UNC launching degrees in Statistics and Computer Science this fall.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the American Statistical Association, computer science careers will grow 21% in the next decade, while statistics jobs will grow by 33%. Additionally, the degree-seekers in these two areas have grown more than 400% in Colorado since 2012. Careers in computer science have an average salary of $103,238 and $100,910 for data scientists.
Kamel Haddad, Ph.D., dean of the College of Natural and Health Sciences (NHS), said this is the reason they approached these new degrees from a career-first perspective.
“NHS is committed to creating and delivering quality programs that are responsive to regional needs and aligned with the national workforce trajectory,” said Haddad.
“You can leave UNC with a Computer Science degree and get a job with a starting salary of $80,000,” said Jodie Novak, chair and professor in the School of Mathematical Sciences in NHS.
In addition to leading to high-wage jobs, the degrees offer graduates significant flexibility in a wide range of occupations based on an interdisciplinary curriculum that provides additional perspectives, such as a minor in biology, criminal justice or environmental sciences.
For example, someone with a Computer Science degree can work for a tech company programming or creating apps, they can combine their programming skills with chemistry to perform computational chemistry, or even develop apps for a company to monitor and analyze water flow in rivers. Someone with a Statistics degree is well prepared to work as an actuary for an insurance company or as a data scientist in almost any field, from criminal justice, health care, business or even sports, where they can build mathematical models for predictive analysis.
While some universities have offered similar degree programs for longer, Oscar Levin ’04, Ph.D., professor of Mathematics, said the newness of UNC’s programs makes them nimbler.
“We are not teaching the computer science of 20 years ago…. We are starting fresh, we are going to have young faculty who just learned the most recent advances in computer science and statistics,” Levin said.
Courses in the Computer Science program, for example, include “AI Machine Learning,” “Computer and Data Ethics” and “Human-Computer Interaction.”
NHS has hired new professors who will conduct research and foster hands-on learning, as well as job readiness training related to these new degrees.
Kristin Kang, Ph.D., a statistician with expertise in developing models to test the reliability of nanotechnology, joined the faculty of the School of Mathematical Sciences this fall.
Kang, who earned her Ph.D. from Northern Illinois University, is joining from Grandview University in Iowa where she was the department chair. She wanted to join UNC so she has more time for her research. In the past she has focused on nanotechnology, but now she wants to research statistical education research to determine which teaching methods work best for students.
“Data is everywhere so even just having one simple intro to stats class is going to improve students’ lives substantially,” she said. “Our job is to help the students make sense of the data and make sense of the world based on that data.”
Making sense of big data requires some level of human intervention. That’s why Kang believes it’s important not only to teach students the formulas and calculations, but also the meaning behind them.
“You learn the inner workings and then you’re able to really take those tools and customize them to the problem at hand.”