During its March meeting, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors approved a resolution to create a Master of Science in applied data science.

The interdisciplinary program — built on core courses in computer science, mathematics, and statistics while drawing from many other disciplines — will be administered through the Academy of Data Science, housed within the College of Science.

Pending approval from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, the degree program would be expected to launch in 2024.

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, data science is one of the fastest growing job categories in the United States,” said Tom Woteki, founding director of the Academy of Data Science. “This degree is intended to equip students to take advantage of that opportunity.”

A key feature of the new degree is its interdisciplinary nature. The core curriculum will rely on content from both the Departments of Mathematics and Statistics in the College of Science as well as the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering.

Meanwhile, the proposed degree also will offer electives from a variety of other departments across the university. Concentrations will allow students to focus on utilizing their data science knowledge in domains such as modeling and algorithms, geosciences, agricultural and applied economics, industrial and systems engineering, or forest resources and natural conservation.

“Because we have those concentrations, we have a number of different career pathways for students,” said Woteki. “With this master’s degree, they can acquire data science skills that build on their undergraduate degrees. For example, if you came to Virginia Tech because you wanted to study geosciences as an undergraduate, now you can pile data science on top of that and take advantage of these great job opportunities.”

The establishment of the master’s degree in applied data science will be the latest initiative in the College of Science’s strategic plan to come to fruition. When the plan was created in 2020, faculty proposals cited a need to emphasize data science not only as a discipline, but an important tool for all scientific fields.

The result was the launch of the Academy of Data Science, which aims to promote the application and development of data science methods in support of science. This is achieved, in part, by supporting academic research through funding opportunities and faculty fellowships.

The Academy of Data Science is also the home of Virginia Tech’s undergraduate program in computational modeling and data analytics, as well as a part-time master’s program in data analysis and applied statistics based in Northern Virginia.

“Companies and government agencies in Virginia have an urgent need for data scientists who can help improve their understanding of a complicated world,” said Kevin Pitts, dean of the College of Science. “Our aim is to make Virginia Tech a state and national destination for data science learning and research.”

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