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NerdScholar Favorites: Data Science Programs

May 1, 2014
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In the last few years, big data has made a big splash in the media. Some have criticized its privacy violations, while others have celebrated its process, but everyone seems to have an opinion about how complex data sets should be used. What they do agree upon, however, is that big data is here to stay. IBM estimates that there will be 35 Zettabytes of data generated annually by 2020—to put this in perspective, the digital universe currently holds 2.7 Zettabytes. Capturing and processing this data, from tweets to health records, will be essential for business growth, a need that has given rise to a new job title: data scientist. Unlike a data analyst, “a data scientist does not simply collect and report on data, but also looks at it from many angles, determines what it means, then recommends ways to apply the data,” IBM reports.

NerdScholar has compiled a list of our favorite data science programs, a field that typically combines computer science, modeling, statistics, analytics and business. These universities are equipping data-driven students with the skills necessary to harness the world of big data, one Zettabyte at a time.


Northwestern UniversityMost Flexible

Graduate students at Northwestern can complement a master’s degree in predictive analytics with a focus on data science. “It is a graduate certificate program that gives students who have already earned a graduate degree the opportunity to refine and apply their existing analytics skills in areas such as finance, marketing, web and text analytics,” says Joel Shapiro, associate dean of academic programs for the School of Continuing Studies. “Incoming students need a baseline of predictive modeling, which they will build on to enhance their expertise and stay current in how industries can make better decisions and capture value with analysis of large-scale data.” To earn a certificate in data science, students must complete four courses from the program’s seven course offerings. With a flexible schedule, students may choose to complete certain required courses during the summer.


Illinois Institute of TechnologyMost Variety

The Illinois Institute of Technology offers two graduate programs that focus on data science: a master of science in marketing analytics and communication within the Stuart School of Business, and a master of data science within the College of Science. The latter combines high-level mathematics, statistics and computer science theory with business and communication training. “Our graduates know how to make sense of data and have the ability to articulate their discoveries and recommendations to those not schooled in the world of data,” says Shlomo Engelson Aragmon, Ph.D., computer science professor and director of the master of data science program. The program also integrates ethics education into the classroom, since “graduates need to be prepared to address these questions in a serious and professional fashion,” adds Aragmon. The former degree trains marketing professionals to translate consumer data into strategic business insights. Krishna Erramilli, Ph.D., director of graduate business programs, says that the degree “prepares IIT Stuart graduates to bridge the gap between technically-trained data scientists and business executives, to help organizations make data-driven decisions.”


Syracuse UniversityMost Interdisciplinary

Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, also known as the iSchool, offers a 15-credit graduate certificate of advanced study in data science. “This highly interdisciplinary program brings together data analytics and visualization with information systems architecture, databases, web services, information security, data warehousing, project management, information entrepreneurship and regulatory policy,” says Jeffrey Stanton, Ph.D., professor and faculty lead on data science. The credits earned in the data science certificate program can also contribute to a master of information management or master of library and information science degree. The certificate can be completed through full-time or part-time study, as well as in the classroom or online.


Elmhurst CollegeMost Real-World Experience

Elmhurst College’s master of data science program integrates statistics, computer science and business. In addition to technical training, students also complete two master’s-level courses in a field that relates to their specific area of interest, such as business, supply chain management, geoscience or computer science, while intensive projects allow students to apply their knowledge to real-world challenges. “Courses in Elmhurst College data science program make heavy use of case studies, providing context for students to develop a wide array of skills with a deep understanding of the reasons for doing so,” says James Kulich, co-director of the master of data science program. “Data science practitioners from various fields occasionally serve as case study leads, giving students an opportunity to test the connection between theory and practice.” Through the use of video conferencing and other technologies, all aspects of the program are fully accessible online.


Northern Kentucky UniversityGreat Undergraduate Option

Northern Kentucky offers a bachelor of science in data science through its computer science department, part of the College of Informatics. The degree builds upon a computer science foundation, while also focusing upon data science, statistical modeling, data mining, business analytics and scientific visualization. The degree concludes with a capstone project, where students must obtain, condition, explore, model and interpret a big data set. “The data science degree at Northern Kentucky University emphasizes the critical arc that runs from data to information, information to knowledge and knowledge to decision-making,” says James McGuffee, chair of the computer science department. “Our expectation is that graduates of the data science program will be able to understand the mathematical and statistical foundations of data science and understand the business context in which data science functions.”


Note: Superlatives, noted in green, are inclusive of the group of schools listed in this article only. 

Image of data scientist courtesy of Shutterstock.