William & Mary is studying the possibility of creating a new university unit in computer science and data science, Vice President Peggy Agouris told members of the visitors’ committee on Thursday.
The effort stems from renewed student interest in applied sciences, computing and data science at William & Mary, and a commitment by the university in its strategic plan to meet the anticipated needs of Virginia workforce.
To accommodate the expected growth, Agouris has formed an exploratory design team with representatives from all five W&M schools, while three main departments are working to develop a model for the proposed school unit, which could potentially be a separate school.
“Assessing how these culture units can be better organized is critical as it can have serious implications for our ability to deliver resources for the education W&M offers across disciplines and to attract and expand key partnerships. said Agouris, who presented the effort at the Board of Visitors’ Academic Affairs Committee meeting at the W&M alumni house. “The right organizational structure can reinvent our value in the compute and data space. This can foster important relationships at the state and federal levels, with other institutions, with friends and donors, and with like-minded organizations that may be new partners for us. I hope it will deepen our strengths and broaden our horizons.
The university has seen an explosion of interest in computer science in recent years, and computer skills are increasingly being used in other disciplines as well. Over the past 10 years, interest in computer science fields has more than tripled at W&M, from 211 reported majors in just two fields (computer science and mathematics) to 738 in six (computer science, data science, mathematics, computational mathematics and Applied and Statistics, Business Analytics – Data Science and Business Analytics – Supply Chain).
The growth in these fields reflects an overall increase in student interest in STEM fields at W&M. From 2011 to 2022, the number of graduates in STEM disciplines at W&M more than doubled, from 284 to 693. Looking only at the past two years, the number of computer science degrees the university has awarded has increased from 78 to 93. In the data science program, which just started in 2020, the number of degrees awarded increased from eight in 2021 to 35 in 2022.
At the same time, data has become increasingly important to the university as a whole. With data as one of the four initiatives outlined in the Vision 2026 strategic plan, William & Mary is committed to expanding its “presence and influence in computer and data science…in line with student demand and needs.” of the Virginia workforce.
“This school represents an opportunity to boldly expand the William & Mary community in new directions, serve new student populations, and introduce the incredible talent of our teachers and researchers to new national and international audiences,” said Dan. Runfola, assistant professor of applied sciences. . “By integrating our IT operations into a new unit, we recognize the unique challenges and opportunities these rapidly changing fields present and gain the ability to respond with agility to new opportunities without disrupting our ability to deliver a world class liberal arts education. world.”
Formal discussions about a possible computer science and data science unit at W&M began in the spring of 2022 and grew organically, Agouris said, with faculty members initially raising the idea. After forming an ad hoc design team of representatives from the arts and sciences, business, education, law, and marine sciences of the university to explore the possibilities, its members began to conduct research similar structures at other universities and think about what might make sense for William & Marie.
Faculty leaders from the departments of computer science, applied science, and the data science program are currently working to develop a model based on this research. This semester, the model will be refined as feedback is received from various stakeholders, including the Faculty Assembly.
The model and action plan are expected to be finalized in the spring, with the goal of submitting them to the Board of Visitors and the Virginia State Council on Higher Education in the fall of 2023.
The exploratory effort is part of William & Mary’s ongoing work to increase its computer science offerings as career opportunities and student interest increase.
Currently, the university offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in computer science as well as a minor in computer science. In 2020, W&M began offering a bachelor’s degree in data science, then created the popular Jump Start Data Science summer program that can lead to an accelerated minor. The Department of Applied Science has a well-established doctoral program that also offers a concentration in data science. Applied Science also offers an undergraduate minor and master’s options.
Increasing the number of students with skills in data science and computer science is also a federal and state government priority. In 2019, the university joined the Commonwealth’s Tech Talent initiative, which aims to increase the number of Virginians with computer-related degrees. The Technology Talent Investment Program provides funding to participating Virginia universities and colleges to help develop this “technology talent pipeline.”
While preparing interested students to enter this pipeline is a key driver for exploring a new computing and data science unit at W&M, Agouris said that everything is still in the early stages and that the he university was doing its due diligence to see what might be the best fit for the university.
“We want to make sure this makes sense for our university based on the growth we’re experiencing, the associated demands, and also what we’re hearing from our university community,” Agouris said.
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