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Data for All and Data for Good

Two professors and a student looking at a computer screenThe Cal Poly Statistics Department is extremely pleased to continue its commitment to data science efforts across campus. Computing has long been part of our statistics major curriculum, e.g., SAS and R, but with growing interest for more computing depth within our major and interest in data science in other areas, we’ve been working hard to develop new programs and curriculum. 

One of the most successful of these is our cross-disciplinary studies minor in data science, developed by our own Andrew Schaffner and Alex Dekhtyar from the Computer Science Department. The minor was launched in fall 2016 and is open primarily to statistics, computer science, software engineering, computer engineering and mathematics majors. The program is designed to provide an in-depth data science education, complete with appropriate computing and statistical background. 

In four years, the program has graduated more than 70 students, most of whom either chose to continue their education in data science or a related area in a graduate program or found a data science, data engineering, machine learning engineering or data analytics job in industry.

In August 2020, Renee Pera, then vice president of research, economic development and graduate education, convened a widely representative group of 20 faculty to envision how to grow Cal Poly’s leadership as a data science and analytics innovator in research and education. The group proposed the creation of a radically interdisciplinary School for Data Science and Analytics that will reach across all sections of the university, transform how and what we teach students, and revolutionize how Cal Poly solves the world’s problems and empowers decision makers. Statistics faculty have been a core part of this initiative. 

Broadly speaking, this initiative revolves around two faculty-developed priorities: Data for All and Data for Good.

Data for All includes:

  • providing avenues for Cal Poly students to pursue the education they need to succeed in their professional lives
  • creating training opportunities for Cal Poly faculty and staff to learn how data tools can be integrated into their teaching
  • overseeing self-sustaining continuing education and certificate programs for alumni, industry, corporations and community members

Data for Good includes:

  • supporting student-faculty research that helps solve regional, national and global problems
  • funding investigations of how to improve data science teaching across the university
  • fostering community and training faculty and staff in data science methods to increase possibilities for new research agendas
  • ensuring that diversity, equity, inclusion, and ethical concerns about the creation and use of data are infused throughout our efforts

The Statistics and Computer Science departments received an NSF grant to support the development of courses that would support the Data for All priority. Two data science courses for General Education are already underway. This work is led by Kelly Bodwin, Hunter Glanz and Dennis Sun in the Statistics Department and Jonathan Ventura in the Computer Science Department. This Cal Poly team has partnered with faculty at UCSB, CSU San Bernardino and Santa Barbara City College to establish the Central Coast Data Science Partnership. 

It’s also encouraging to see that several programs at Cal Poly have independently introduced data literacy, data analysis or the use of data-driven technologies in their discipline-specific coursework.

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