RENCI Director Stan Ahalt named inaugural dean for new data science school

In this role, Ahalt will be responsible for advancing the academic mission and vision of the School of Data Science and Society.

Stanley C. Ahalt
Stanley C. Ahalt is the inaugural dean of the School of Data Science and Society. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Stanley C. Ahalt, director of the Renaissance Computing Institute, has been appointed the inaugural dean for Carolina’s new School of Data Science and Society. His experience with RENCI — a collaboration among Carolina, North Carolina State University and Duke University — prepared Ahalt for his new role in establishing the academic vision and mission of a collaborative hub for data science.

Ahalt is also a professor in the College of Arts & Sciences’ computer science department and the associate director of informatics and data science in the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute.

“Stan’s passion for using a team approach in applying data science to society’s most pressing challenges at RENCI and NC TraCS makes him the ideal choice to be the inaugural dean of our new School of Data Science and Society,” said Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “Stan has overseen the application of data science to tough societal problems like COVID-19, climate change and bias in the court system. He is well prepared to lead a school whose emphasis on data science’s human and social dimensions will set Carolina apart from our peers.”

Steps to implementation

Naming an inaugural dean is an important step in the implementation of the new School of Data Science and Society. The College of Arts & Sciences introduced a popular data science minor in fall 2021. The School of Information and Library Science added a certificate in applied data science in spring 2022. The school will launch this fall with its first class of graduates in 2026.

“As inaugural dean, Stan will advance the academic mission and vision of the school. He will recruit creative and distinguished faculty and bring together the ideas and people that will work across disciplines to build the research and training programs for the next generation of data scientists,” said Provost and Chief Academic Officer J. Christopher Clemens.

Ahalt was identified by a search committee chaired by Jaye Cable, senior associate dean for natural sciences and mathematics in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Ahalt’s data science vision

“The collective expertise we need is already present on this campus. The SDSS will grow this pool of expertise and provide a focal point for collaborations,” Ahalt said. “Carolina is a unique institution that practices the credo of collaboration across disciplines. We will focus on the science, methods and technologies that anchor data science as well as applications that have an impact on society.”

The new school will also prepare Carolina’s students for a changing workplace. This skilled workforce will attract and keep competitive employers in the region. Google, Apple and other major companies moving to the state are looking for data science graduates. So are existing North Carolina companies, including SAS, Epic Games, Cisco and IBM.

Changes at RENCI

With Ahalt’s departure, RENCI Deputy Director Ashok Krishnamurthy has been named the interim director. Asia Mieczkowska, currently deputy operating officer, will assume the role of interim chief operating officer. Jay Aikat, current RENCI chief operating officer, will be SDSS senior associate dean.

Additional positions in the RENCI leadership team will be announced shortly.