The School of Data and Social Sciences is gaining momentum

After years of planning by hundreds of faculty and campus administrators, Carolina’s School of Data Science and Society (SDSS) is well on its way.

The school’s first dean, Stan Ahalt, former director of the Renaissance Computing Institute, worked tirelessly with an implementation leadership team. They are planning an official launch event later this semester.

“The School of Data Science and Society will leverage the talents of world-class faculty across disciplines and focus on the foundations and applications of data science to improve lives in North Carolina and around the world,” said Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “The new school will also prepare students for a changing workplace and help attract and retain competitive employers in our state.”

On September 12, Guskiewicz joined Ahalt for a well-attended public conversation about the school’s expectations and future plans at UNC CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio. Acting Vice Chancellor for Research Penny Gordon-Larsen and Assistant Professor of Art History Kathryn Desplanque were also on hand to answer Ahalt’s questions. The event was part of the popular Carolina Data Science Now series, co-sponsored by the new school and RENCI to inform data science research across disciplines.

“I love the ‘and society’ at the end of the school name,” Guskiewicz said when Ahalt was asked about his expectations for the school. “We are going to bring the social sciences, the human dimension, into the school, not only by capturing data, by analyzing data, by interpreting data, but (by considering) how society uses this data to make informed decisions. . »

During the event, Ahalt and his guests discussed how the school will address the growing need for data literacy across different sectors and research areas, including recruiting professors with diverse research backgrounds, building relationships with relevant industry partners, providing training in effective data science methods, and bolstering a curriculum that addresses critical topics such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, data privacy, and ethics.

And they talked a lot about the school’s role in helping to share data among experts at the University’s many research centers and institutes.

“Data really is the language of collaboration,” Gordon-Larsen said.

Birth of the new school

Gordon-Larsen’s insight into the collaborative nature of data science resonated with those in attendance on September 12 for good reason. Throughout the decade of planning leading up to this moment, collaboration has been a fundamental principle. The school’s interdisciplinary approach will be reflected in a pan-university advisory board to be appointed later this fall.

Other next steps include:

  • Build academic business, starting with a curriculum.
  • Establish faculty affairs such as guidelines for hiring new faculty, for establishing cross-appointments, and for promotion and tenure.
  • Focus on integrating faculty-developed approaches and applications of data science to address societal problems and policy issues at the state and national level.
  • Enrolling students and hiring staff and faculty.

Over the next several months, Ahalt and the implementation team—RENCI’s Jay Aikat, Caroline’s geneticist Terry Magnuson, and administrator Anna Rose Medley—will define research clusters based on the areas the school is focusing on. will focus. At first, this might mean three to five research clusters, all interdisciplinary, involving people from different schools focused on one major challenge that needs to be solved.

The implementation team views curriculum development as one of the group’s most important goals. They are well advanced in building the online masters program. A minor at the College introduced in the fall of 2021 has proven extremely popular, attracting over 500 students in its first year. And the team is working on both Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts in collaboration with the College and other schools.

Members of the Implementation Team and Ahalt welcome engagement from faculty, staff, and students who have questions about the school’s next steps and how they can get involved. Email [email protected] with questions, comments, or suggestions.

The implementation team projects the first three years as a start-up phase – hiring faculty and staff and launching degree programs to bring the school to a stable operating state in five to seven years. A brick and mortar location will come later.

The school leadership team is building infrastructure to support curriculum, academic and faculty affairs, student enrollment, and student mentorship. Additionally, discussions are underway with campus units to develop a strategic roadmap to promote data literacy and data-related research and training across the university.

“The collective expertise we need is already present on this campus. The SDSS will develop this pool of expertise and provide a focal point for collaborations,” said Ahalt. “Carolina is a unique institution that practices the credo of collaboration across disciplines. We will focus on the science, methods and technologies that anchor data science as well as applications that impact society.

Based on the interest shown so far by faculty, staff and students, the School of Data and Social Sciences will be a welcome addition to the University.

What Data Science Will Mean For You — One Person’s Perspective

What: SDSS Distinguished Speaker Series with Dr. Phil Bourne, Founding Dean of the School of Data Science at the University of Virginia (public seminar, reception to follow)
When: Wednesday, September 28 at 12:20 p.m.
Where: Kerr Pavilion, Room 2001

Data science is transformative – an easy claim to make after working in academia for several years. Nevertheless, the digital transformation of society cannot be denied. University data science initiatives across the country are responding and contributing to the transformation with new trainees, innovative research, and local community action. As UNC launches its new School of Data Science and Society, we’ll spend time pondering the age-old question: What’s in it for me?

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