Professor and two students look at computer
2.01.2020
By Roanoke College News

Roanoke College approves new major in data science

Ever wondered how Spotify compiles personal year-in-review playlists every December? Or how crime-data maps of different neighborhoods can be so specific?

Analyzing large batches of data to solve problems and provide services is called data science, and it is the newest major offered at Roanoke College, pending approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. 

Data science is an interdisciplinary field that lies at the intersection of mathematics, statistics, and computer science, and often partners with business, engineering and bioinformatics. It is a rapidly evolving field that requires technical skills, critical thinking and strong communication skills.

And, data science is very much in demand: In the 2019 CareerCast job rankings, Data Scientist is No. 1, with Statistician at No. 2.

Beyond providing Spotify users with playlists of songs most listened to, professional data scientists solve a wide array of large-scale problems using data. For example, huge traffic datasets can be analyzed to inform governments about needed roadwork and improvements. Medical data can be examined to find a variety of solutions, from reducing misdiagnosis to predicting disease.

Data science majors generally take one of two paths — the theoretical track and the applied track. The Roanoke College data science program will prepare students for either one. The theoretical track prepares students for graduate school or working for a technologically advanced company such as Amazon. The applied track, for students who are interested in immediate employment, prepares students to enter the business world. Students learn the language of business and finance, and acquire analytics skills currently used in the workplace.

“The two-semester capstone sequence helps students reflect on the skills acquired in the program in order to ask and answer questions about large data sets and use those to help solve the world’s important problems.”

Dr. David Taylor, who coordinated the cross-campus development of the major

The two tracks, “take advantage of Roanoke College’s expertise in computer science and placing students in jobs and graduate schools and the immense strength of our business and economics programs,” said Dr. David Taylor, who coordinated the cross-campus development of the major. “The two-semester capstone sequence helps students reflect on the skills acquired in the program in order to ask and answer questions about large data sets and use those to help solve the world’s important problems.”

At Roanoke College, students who major in data science will engage in courses in areas where the College already excels – computer science, statistics, business administration and economics.

Many existing majors and minors at Roanoke College are well-positioned for data science. Examples include:

  • Business/Analytics – Roanoke College has a strong business program with a tradition of highlighting statistics, mathematics, and analytics.
  • Computer Science – The Princeton Review has named Roanoke College one of the best schools for computer science/computer engineering majors for eight consecutive years, beginning in 2011.
  • Mathematics – The mathematics faculty work to support students at every level. Early courses focus on concepts and development, with a goal for students to truly understand a problem at its core and master the ability to use math to find solutions.
  • Statistics – Roanoke College’s advanced courses in statistics are rare for colleges of its size. The material mirrors content typically found in a graduate program for statistics.
  • Other programs – Roanoke College faculty, in a variety of disciplines, work with potentially large amounts of data, including economics, health and exercise science, physics, political science, public health studies, and psychology.
  • Internships – Roanoke College has a strong track record of developing relationships with companies to provide internships and prepare students for post-undergraduate study. 

For specific questions about the program, please contact Dr. Durell Bouchard, program coordinator, at bouchard@roanoke.edu, or Dr. David Taylor, chair of the Mathematics, Computer Science, and Physics Department, at taylor@roanoke.edu.