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What You Need to Know About the Soon-to-be-Launched Data Science Major

Due to increasing student demand and the use of data analysis in different fields, CMC plans to implement a new data science major by the fall of 2020 or 2021. The faculty committee will present its first proposal to the curriculum committee in the spring of 2020. The committee, which consists of professors from various departments, has proposed a 12 course major with classes in math, statistics, probability, computer science, and ethics. To fulfill the capstone requirement, the major would also require students to participate in a clinic in addition to completing a thesis.

In 2018, George Roberts ‘66 P’93 donated $25 million to expand data science education and computing education. With plans to hire new professors specializing in data science, CMC currently has the faculty and resources needed to launch a data science major. “The data science major will allow students to be a player, an expert in data science,” said Peter Uvin, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, to stress the distinctive purposes the data science major would serve.

CMC students deem the new data science major as “very admirable and a necessary step for CMC to remain a leading national liberal arts college,” according to David Roman ‘22, a current public policy major with a data science sequence.

In terms of the differences between the data science major and sequence, Uvin believes that “the major is heavy on math, statistics, and probability. However, the sequence offers students familiarity with data science.” In other words, CMC intends the sequence to be interdisciplinary, as students must also complete a major. While the data science major is intended to make students experts in that realm, CMC will continue to offer the data science sequence but plans to change its name to distinguish it from the major.

To determine the major requirements, the faculty committee looked at data science majors at other universities, considered CMC’s resources in statistics, math, and computer science, and examined the guidelines set by the American Statistical Association for data science majors.

Many CMC students were hoping that the data science major would provide more access to computer science courses, which have become increasingly difficult to enroll in at Harvey Mudd College. Because of this, there are some concerns about the major’s emphasis on math and statistics and lack of offerings in computer science.

In response to such concerns, Mark Huber, Professor of Mathematics and Statistics, explained that CMC is intentionally constructing the data science major to distinguish it from the computer science major. However, there are areas of overlap, such as the requirement to complete clinic. Ideally, students majoring in data science and computer science will participate together in clinic projects during their junior year.

For students interested in infusing data science into their economics or government-related majors, CMC’s faculty plans to add data-science oriented courses in the Economics department, one of which is Economics 160: Accounting Data Analytics, taught by George Batta, Associate Professor of Economics.

“Teaching a data science course like Econ 160 involves a lot more in-class lab work, where professors present a lecture and students operate software in class,” said Batta in response to the differences between teaching a traditional accounting course and Accounting Data Analytics.

This semester, Batta is also one of four instructors of the Data Science’s capstone requirement — DS180 CM — Advanced Projects in Data Science. In the capstone, teams of four students engage in a data-analysis project for organizations in the public and private sectors.

“The capstone is unique in the sense that it offers [students] a taste of working with an external client on a real-world program and soft skills, [such as] proper presentation, in addition to analysis skills,” said Batta in an exclusive interview with the Forum. Looking ahead, the Office of Consortial Academic Collaboration is also planning to add a data science major at the other Claremont Colleges, according to Uvin. “It’s where the world is going. The world is more data-driven than it was 10 or 15 years ago,” said Uvin. “It has exploded: the demand and availability of data. The data science major will prepare students for a data-driven world with machine intelligence.”

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