New data science major to be offered Fall 2019

BY ANNA SHORTRIDGE ’19

Earlier this month, Mount Holyoke faculty voted to introduce a new data science major to be offered starting in the Fall of 2019. 

College faculty have been considering the creation of this major for several years. According to Valerie Barr, Chair of Computer Science and one of the chairs of the Nexus in Data Science, “A group of [Mount Holyoke] faculty [...]  started an exploration of data science several years ago, which was then supported in part by a donation from MassMutual.”

Barr said, “At that time the faculty developed the Data Science Nexus and started work on the description of a new major in data science. This was an iterative development process, and the final version was presented to the faculty in Fall 2018 and passed by a vote of the faculty earlier in February.” 

Barr has been a co-chair of Data Science since starting at Mount Holyoke in 2017 and is now one of the leaders of the Data Science Steering Committee. 

Mount Holyoke’s Nexus in Data Science became an option for students  in 2016. Barr explained that once the new major is put into place, students who have declared the Nexus in Data Science can graduate with it, but new declarations of the Nexus in Data Science will no longer be allowed once the full major is offered. 

Barr is enthusiastic about the creation of the new major and optimistic about the opportunities it could bring to Mount Holyoke students. 

“Data science combines the study and use of computing and statistics to address problems in a domain area,” she said. “Having a major in this field is very appropriate for [Mount Holyoke] given our historic strength in the sciences, and our commitment to the liberal arts and empowering students to address difficult questions across a range of areas.”

The curriculum of the new major will encompass computer science, math, statistics and “a domain area chosen by each major.” Barr said data science majors will also take a senior capstone course in the fall semester of their senior year. 

She also explained that new faculty will not be hired specifically for the data science major. “Certainly, contributions to the data science program will be considered during some hires in the same way that contributions to other interdisciplinary majors are currently considered,” said Barr. 

Some students, though, including Rae Tomarkin ’21, a current math major considering an additional major in data science, are concerned about the College’s intended hiring policy. 

“I think my [worry] would be that the school won’t have classes prepared that are specifically geared toward data science,” Tomarkin said. “Then we’ll end up taking courses that are already offered and call it a data science major. […] I’d like to see classes that are specific to data science instead of being about things that apply to data science.” 

Generally, though, Tomarkin, who interned with a data science company over the summer, is excited about the announcement of the new major. 

“It’s very timely,” they said. “Anyone, in my opinion, who graduated with a data science major will have no problem finding a job — it’s very stable and there are a lot of work opportunities in data science.”

When asked if she thinks the new major will be popular, Alex Kenoian ’19, a computer science and international relations double major, said, “It should be! [Data science] is a huge and growing field.” She added, “But frankly the [computer science] department is already underfunded and understaffed so I’m kind of confused about how that’s going to work.”

For those interested, there will be a Data Science informational session for prospective majors on Monday, Feb. 25 at 12:15 p.m. in the Cassani Lounge on the first floor of Shattuck Hall.

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