Papatla named university co-director of Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute

Purush Papatla, a marketing professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has been named as one of two university directors in the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute, a collaborative educational and research initiative among Northwestern Mutual and its foundation, UWM and Marquette University.

The Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute was formed to inspire and cultivate passion for data science in the Milwaukee region. Leveraging the strengths of the three institutions, the groundbreaking partnership will contribute $40 million over five years to help build a technology ecosystem and advance southeastern Wisconsin as a national hub for technology, research, business and talent development, while creating an organic pipeline of local tech talent.

Purush Papatla

The directors play an integral role in providing strategic direction for the institute and are responsible for setting research priorities, enhancing the data science programs at the universities, and growing data science skillsets in the Milwaukee region, said Keri McConnell, Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute executive director. They also are charged with promoting the institute as a national and global leader of data science, she added. The other university director is Edward Blumenthal of Marquette University.

The funding will support an endowed professorship at each university, research projects, new data science faculty, development of expanded curriculum, a K-12 STEM program, pre-college programming, and computer hardware and software.

The first new UWM classes associated with the institute are making their debut this academic year. These are a graduate class and its undergraduate twin, designed to introduce as many students in as many disciplines and colleges as possible to the applications of data science.

Papatla incorporates a mechanical engineering background and a deep interest in psychology and anthropology into his data science work, using statistical analysis to reveal why and how people engage with visual, audio and textual content and why they make the choices they do.

In one study, he used Instagram data to determine which photos showing products were most successful in selling the products. He determined that images focused on people’s faces were counterproductive because humans are hardwired to look at each other, distracting viewers from the presentation of products. In another study, Papatla used data from Uber and New York City taxis to determine why and when people chose rideshare services over traditional taxis.

“Data science at UW-Milwaukee spans a remarkable range of fields like business, cybersecurity, engineering, political science, public health and social welfare,” Papatla said. “I look forward to working through the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute to further expand teaching and research in data science across our entire campus and graduating more and more students skilled in data science. I am also committed to helping the Institute and UWM use data science to have a significant positive impact on our community.”

To learn more about the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute, visit

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