Beginning in fall 2020, Knox College will offer students a new major in data science, an interdisciplinary field of study that spans computer science, mathematics, and statistics and can lead to plentiful career opportunities that are personally and financially rewarding.
Data science has applications in many other fields, including business, economics, political science, and scientific research. It can be used to address a wide range of questions, such as:
- Is a literary work of unknown authorship consistent with the style of a particular author?
- Is an email message a spam message?
- In baseball, does a change in a player’s hitting approach cause a significant increase in the number of runs scored?
Students who will be attracted to studying data science are likely to enjoy “the usage and the development of solutions via machine to large problems,” said Kevin Hastings, Rothwell C. Stephens Distinguished Service Chair in Mathematics. They also likely will “just love to work with data.”
Some Knox students already have blazed their own trails in the field of data science through their research projects, he added. They have gone on to begin their careers, and they played key roles in helping Knox determine how to develop the new major program.
As part of launching the data science major program, Knox will offer two new courses—Machine Learning and Data Mining & Statistical Computing—and make strategic changes in other existing courses.
Data science majors at Knox will learn the needed technical skills while also benefiting from the traditions of a liberal arts education, in which broad-based critical and ethical thinking skills are applied to help solve important human problems. Several courses in the program pay explicit attention to ethical issues in the use of data to draw conclusions.
“Out there in the business world, government, [and] science, data sets are used to make decisions frequently. Those decisions need to be informed by a more global point of view,” said Hastings. “Things that require the application of different modes of thinking to solve real problems are really right up the alley of a liberal arts institution.”
Assistant Professor of Mathematics Ole Forsberg, who specializes in statistics, added: “What I think is the major strength of a liberal arts education is it puts the human being, writ large, first, at the center of all analyses.”
Students who major in data science will have numerous opportunities to work with faculty and with other students. “There will be huge potential for collaboration,” said Jaime Spacco, associate professor and chair of computer science. For example, he added, a student could team up with Associate Professor of Political Science Andrew Civettini to examine political polling data.
Data science majors also will have opportunities to pursue independent research and to use the skills they’re learning in internships, especially in the financial industry, Hastings said.