Burgeoning Field of Data Science Becomes New Major at Creighton
Burgeoning Field of Data Science Becomes New Major at Creighton

The ability to spot trends, identify opportunities and problems through the analysis of data, and transform a bewildering tsunami of numbers into real-world action is a gateway to success, according to the Harvard Business Review.

And for the Creighton University College of Arts and Sciences, it’s its newest major.

Data science, the Harvard Review noted in a 2012 article titled “Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century,” is new to the world, a burly and insistent adolescent full of energy and genius whose very name had been coined only in 2008, by D.J. Patil and Jeff Hammerbacher, chiefs of data and analytics at LinkedIn and Facebook. It was a prophetic designation. According to Indeed.com, a leading worldwide jobs search engine, the demand for data scientists tripled between 2013 and 2018, far ahead of supply, with starting salaries ranging from $95,111 to $137,648, depending on the region of the country.

“Companies left and right are building divisions or hiring data scientists to manage the volume of data that they have,” says Aimee Schwab-McCoy, PhD, a statistician and assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics at Creighton.

“I’ve also seen a variety of consulting firms emerge, groups of dedicated data scientists for hire, who spend their time working on fun problems for other companies. Every industry has a demand for data scientists because every industry needs to know what’s going on. It can really be tailored to just about any interest.”

LinkedIn ranked data scientist No. 1 in its 2019 listing of the Most Promising Jobs in America, based on company data examining salaries, number of job openings, year-over-year job growth, and likelihood to lead to a job promotion.

The emergence of data science as a mainstay of the 21st century economy caused Creighton to raise it to a major, pursuable immediately as a freshman or in the normal course of declaring a major.

“Students can certainly go straight into the data science major,” says Schwab-McCoy. “There are pathways for students who find data science later to complete the major, although if they’re not coming from math or computer science, it might be difficult.”

The course content, Schwab-McCoy says, contains “a little bit of everything,” and will instill skills much in demand.

“Students will learn basic programming, algorithm design, traditional mathematics, theoretical statistics, intro to statistical modeling, and then our Intro to Data Science Sequence, which is sort of an overview of the possibilities with data,” Schwab-McCoy says.

“We have a machine learning course where they spend a semester really digging into machine-learning algorithms — how they work, how to tune those algorithms. They spend a semester on data visualization, learning the design side of data visualization, they take a course in database management, and then there’s a capstone project at the end.

“It’s a big major.”

A recent survey of Creighton data science students, asking them what they hope to do with their data science education, reveals the wide scope of professional hopes and possibilities.   

Responses included medical research, building business predictions, using statistical modeling to turn data observations into real-world interventions, serving the transportation and aerospace industries, and developing the statistical analysis, programming and machine learning skills necessary to succeed in computational physics.

“I have seen the impact in the field firsthand of an effective data collection and analysis pipeline,” said one respondent. “We can leverage this information to help drive higher efficiency, which should lead to a more sustainable use of nonrenewable resources and lower the effect of human activities on the global climate.”

Students interested in the data science major or minor should contact Schwab-McCoy, aimeeschwab-mccoy [at] creighton [dot] edu, for more details.