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The Data Science Initiative

futuristic photo of data science

Data science.

Proposal marries data analysis, liberal arts

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

If you know how to wrangle data sets, you can enter an exploding field in today’s data-saturated global workplace. If you know how to analyze and communicate your findings effectively—and how to apply a deep and widely informed understanding of the phenomena driving the data—you’re positioned to contribute much more profoundly.

That idea lies at the core of the Data Science Initiative, one of four Revolutionary Challenge finalists. Drawing from Dickinson’s leadership in liberal-arts education, it proposes an interdisciplinary data-analytics program that would support and enrich multiple academic programs, helping students in every major learn to understand, critique and construct data-driven arguments that drive decision-making.

While some components of this program are already in place at Dickinson, the proposed Data Science Initiative would expand on these elements and bring them together under a larger umbrella. It would include a major in data analytics and an introductory course open to students in all majors.

And, most importantly, it would be informed and defined by the Dickinson liberal-arts model.

The idea for the proposal found traction during a summer faculty study group on how we understand data, says Jeffrey Forrester, associate professor of mathematics. Informed by input from Dickinson students, faculty members, alumni and administrators as well as by the work of experts across a variety of fields, the study group, organized by Professor of Mathematics Dave Richeson, considered a variety of options for data science education at Dickinson.

Following the summer study group, Associate Professor of Economics Emily Marshall joined with Richeson to write the Revolutionary Challenge proposal.

“Our team decided that the best way to address the needs of the college was not incrementally, but by proposing a bold new major in data analytics that takes a holistic view of data, balancing a robust skill-intensive curriculum with a humanistic approach ;and incorporating ethics and social responsibility at the outset,” says Forrester.

That multipronged and interdisciplinary approach, which is also deepened by the college’s commitment to global and sustainable education and to diversity and equity—would help build citizen-leaders who can apply the power of data to the world’s most complex problems, such as global health, climate change and social justice. So by fusing the best of data science and the liberal arts, the program is designed to enable students working in any field to effect meaningful change.


Published January 31, 2021