Innovation & Entrepreneurship

More than 100 people involved in planning pan-University data science initiative

This is the first time that the University has looked at the field in a holistic way, with a unified strategy in mind.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Robert A. Blouin addresses a meeting on data science in the Pleasants Room of Wilson Library (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

A group of more than 100 faculty, staff, and students is part of the feasibility planning for a new Data Science @ Carolina initiative, a pan-University committee charged with charting the pedagogy, practice and application of data science across campus.

“Even though Carolina is very active in both research and teaching, it’s been difficult to say what is happening in the data science realm across campus because there has been no unified strategy,” Provost Robert A. Blouin said. “We are seeking broad University participation across all domains of our academic areas: the arts, humanities, social sciences, our professional schools, STEM and health sciences, and thinking in the context of how we fit into the short and long-term needs not only to campus, but to the people of North Carolina.”

Led by School of Information and Library Science Dean Gary Marchionini and Jay Aikat, chief operating officer of the Renaissance Computing Institute and research associate professor of computer science, the effort will build upon and amplify existing research, education and outreach efforts in data science.

“People across campus are studying and applying data science,” Aikat said. “We want to find a way to accelerate that and organize it without creating a silo.”

“We are trying to come up with a coherent, pan-campus strategy that makes data science a powerful adjunct to all of the other kinds of instructional and research programs we offer at Carolina,” Marchionini said.

A steering committee began meeting weekly over the summer, and last week they kicked off work with seven sub-committees focused on key areas of engagement including undergraduate and graduate curricula, research, community and civic engagement, physical infrastructure, student services and staff support, and finance and funding. The subcommittees will have a little over two months to study their areas in detail and develop responses to a set of deliverables defined in their charge. In early 2020, those responses will be integrated into a feasibility proposal to further the research, education and engagement efforts of the campus on data science.

“We are asking the steering committee and sub-committees to be expeditious and go about their work in a concise way,” Blouin said.

This is not the University’s first foray into data science. In fact, several committees have examined the future of data science at the University over the past seven years. However, this is the first time that the University has looked at the field in a holistic way, seeking not only to include core interdisciplinary education and research programs in data science, but also to build upon and amplify existing pan-campus collaboration and cooperation in research, education and outreach. While many institutions are looking at and launching programs in data science, Carolina’s culture of collaboration, world-class bio-health research and strong fine arts, humanities and social sciences programs make it uniquely positioned to create an impactful data science offering, Blouin said.