Two U.S. universities recently made significant additions to their
departmental structures, in bids to make data analytics education
a major part of their future plans. In both cases, university
leaders have signaled a belief that data analytics warrants its
own campus division.
In October, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in
Cambridge announced its US$1 billion commitment to explore
opportunities presented by computing and artificial intelligence
(AI). A major part of this commitment will be the formation of
the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing. The new
college will be funded by a $350 million gift from Schwarzman,
the chairman and CEO of global asset manager Blackstone. The
college is scheduled to open September 2019, and its new building
will be completed in 2022.
The college will be an interdisciplinary hub for collaborative
work in computer science, AI, data science, and related fields
across the university. To support its expanded emphasis on
computing, MIT has created 50 new faculty positions, 25 within
the college and 25 in joint positions in other university departments.
Once these positions are filled, MIT will have nearly doubled
the number of faculty with expertise in computing and AI.
In November, the leadership of the University of California,
Berkeley, announced its own plans to open a new multidisciplinary division of data science and information. The division
will coordinate programs and research related to data science
across the College of Engineering, the College of Letters and
Science, and the School of Information.
The division’s creation is a response not only to the growing
influence that data has on all aspects of human life, but also to
the demand for data analytics training among students from
all disciplines and backgrounds. For instance, enrollment has
skyrocketed in Berkeley’s undergraduate course called Data 8:
Foundations of Data Science, from 100 students in the fall of
2015, when it was first offered, to 1,300 students in the fall of
2018. Last year, these students represented 68 different majors;
half were women and 11 percent were from underrepresented
minority groups. Most had little or no coding experience.
For MIT, too, creating a standalone interdisciplinary college
for computing is one way to ensure that technical skills are
taught in all disciplines, says L. Rafael Raif, MIT’s president.
“Computing is no longer the domain of the experts alone. It’s
everywhere, and it needs to be understood and mastered by
almost everyone,” he says. “We must make sure that the leaders
we graduate offer the world not only technological wizardry but
also human wisdom—the cultural, ethical, and historical consciousness
to use technology for the common good.”