Get the data on UWM’s new degree

The future lies in data, so the UWM Mathematical Sciences Department is making sure its students are prepared.

The department debuted a new degree in Data Science this spring, partnering with the Computer Science Department in the UWM College of Engineering and Applied Science to offer coursework centered around data analytics, data architecture, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

UWM is well-poised to begin training students in Data Science, said Suzanne Boyd, Associate Professor and Chair of the Mathematical Sciences Department. After all, the university’s been doing it informally for the past 45 years.

“There were already students who were self-selecting the particular math, statistics, and computer science courses that would be more pertinent to data science,” she said. “Students have been doing this for a long time; it’s just now we can give them name recognition for this.”

And there will plenty of uses for such a degree right here in Milwaukee, if not throughout the country, added Daniel Gervini. He’s a Mathematical Sciences professor and one of the architects of the new degree.

“In Milwaukee, for instance, there are a lot of insurance companies, including Northwestern Mutual. That’s a place where these types of skills are in high demand, always,” he said. “There are all sorts of companies where data analysis is necessary.”

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the demand for data scientists, already high, will only grow in the coming years. Data scientists cover a range of professional duties, including database management, big data analysis and handling, statistics and analytics, and more.

In addition to teaching the technical and hard skills required for that type of work, Gervini said that the Data Science degree also requires students to have a firm grounding in communication and data ethics.

“An important issue in data science and analysis and handling, is how the data is used and for what purpose it will be used, and issues surrounding privacy and security,” he explained. “We thought that that was an angle that we have to cover in addition to the purely technical aspects.”

“More and more, we see employers and students who are increasingly interested in soft skills for those holding technical positions,” Boyd added. “To be successful in a modern office space, students can’t just have the technical skills down. To be competitive in the interview and application process, they need good soft skills.”

Beyond coursework, Boyd and Gervini hope that UWM’s partnership with Northwestern Mutual through the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute will also provide students with avenues for internships and research. Gervini is especially hopeful that data science majors will be able to complete internships or capstone projects through the Institute to enhance their coursework.

Ultimately, Boyd said, the new Data Science degree is a way to meet the needs of both UWM students and the greater community.

“It seemed natural and easy to say, there seems to be a demand for this,” she said. “We as a faculty and our students have a wide range of interests, and we try to honor that and give the students what they need. And, we want to give the community and southeastern Wisconsin what they need in terms of a technical workforce.”

By Sarah Vickery, College of Letters & Science