By Tiffany King
Data Science is quickly becoming one of the most in-demand career paths for skilled professionals. The College of Coastal Georgia is now positioned to help meet the demand for data scientists right here in Brunswick and the Golden Isles.
The College will now offer a Bachelor of Science in Data Science degree beginning Spring 2020. The University System of Georgia's (USG) Board of Regents recently approved the College's proposal for the new baccalaureate. The Data Science program will launch with five concentrations in computational data analytics, healthcare analytics, financial analytics, marketing, and entrepreneurship.
The proposal for the new data science degree was spearheaded by Dr. Syvillia Averett, assistant professor of mathematics and chair of the Faculty Senate; Dr. Jose Lugo, associate professor of mathematics; Dr. Tanya Cofer, associate professor chair and of the Department of Mathematics; and done in collaboration with the School of Business and Public Management.
Data science is an interdisciplinary field that analyzes and interprets complex digital data. Data underlies every aspect of modern life and work, from healthcare and online purchases, to hotel reservations and website clicks. With the new degree program, the College will be able to meet this need more effectively and prepare students for the workforce.
"Because there's so much data and it's easy to store, there is a need to have people who can dig through that data to figure out what the important pieces are, the patterns, and test those patterns," Cofer said. "This is a hot industry right now, and I don't think it's going to go away."
The computational concentration focuses on the basics of data analytics based in math and computer programming. These students will gain the skills to create the system or software that analyzes the data. Healthcare analytics and the current healthcare informatics programs will work closely together. In healthcare analytics students will learn how to interpret collected health information, which can be used for hospitals, employers, and healthcare companies—not just pharmaceutical companies.
"For example, OneUSG [a human resources platform] has different incentives they offer to employees. If there are a lot of sedentary employees, the data collected can be used to create something that gets people out of their chair," Averett said.
Dr. Skip Mounts, dean of the School of Business and Public Management and professor of economics, said the entrepreneurship concentration can help students understand and develop apps. The entrepreneurship path can also explore start-ups and how to serve clients better, Lugo said. Marketing will teach students how to leverage data for successful marketing strategies and understand consumer behaviors.
Financial analytics—also referred to as "fintech" for financial technology—is one of the most well-known and high-paying areas in data science and analytics. Fintech helps to answer specific business questions, forecast possible future financial scenarios, and provide insight for improving profits. Fintech also focuses on the security of financial information. The degree program will have access to the Georgia FinTech Academy offered through the USG. The academy is a statewide initiative to create a pipeline for Georgia's fast-growing fintech business sector. For example, Atlanta is a hub for e-commerce companies looking for people with skills in fintech.
"There are data science jobs everywhere, including sports," Averett said. "Sports can include using data to keep the athletes healthy, figuring out where to put a sports team, and how to target customers to boost season tickets—there's so much."
One of the key components of the program will be communication. Many companies have expressed concern over employees not having good communication skills to express their findings to decision-makers.
"A big part of all of this is understanding psychology and being very good at communicating what you're finding in this very technical, scientific world," Averett said. Cofer described it as a mix of 21st century skills—critical thinking, communication, and innovation.
The data science program is a melting pot of curricula and will take full advantage of the talent that already exists within the College and the math department in particular.
"We actually have a ton of skills in the math department. We have a statistician, people with applied math backgrounds who have done professional development, and I have a computational background. We're going to eventually hire, but this is a good fit for our diverse department," Cofer said. "We're very excited. I believe this will be a huge program and we're eager to continue collaborating with the Business School and with local businesses."
The Benefits of Collaboration
Averett called the process of putting together the proposal as "always collaborative" between the math department and School of Business and Public Management.
Mounts previously heard about the data science degree but this past February at a Regents Advisory Council for Business meeting, he learned about the potential for USG institutions to feed the growing number of fintech opportunities in Georgia. He considered that fintech was something the College was very capable of doing. When Lugo and Averett reached out to Mounts for ideas to make the data science degree a fuller program, he suggested the health and business concentrations.
Starting with the first five concentrations was strategic on the part of the math department. They sought interdisciplinary studies that could fit well within the program to make it run smoothly and could happen immediately.
"Business was a huge supporter," Averett said. "At first we weren't expecting them to offer us these courses, but everything was well thought out with the classes, and it didn't seem like the curriculum would be too daunting for students."
Mounts called Lugo, Averett, and Cofer "a good group to work with."
The program is expected to grow as other disciplines have expressed interest in being part of the data science degree. They are also looking forward to reaching out to businesses in the community for internship opportunities and partnerships for service-learning projects. Lugo said a number of students are looking forward to majoring in data science and are very eager to start.
Mounts emphasized the importance of the College carving a niche for itself with its quality of programs.
"Our attitude in the Business School is if we're like everyone else we lose. We have to be different and it's best if you can be different in ways that other people can't," Mounts said. "We are again ahead of the curve on this one."