Data science is continuing its positive trend at Northwestern, with the Department of Statistics launching a new data science major next fall.
The department will also build on its data science minor to accommodate growing numbers of interested students, said Statistics Prof. Arend Kuyper, director of the minor in data science. He said the program has become increasingly popular since it launched, growing from 76 students in fall 2019 to 349 in fall 2021. Growing relevance in the working world today has boosted interest in the data science field, Kuyper said.
“Data is everywhere,” Kuyper said. “It’s becoming an essential part of many fields and it’s collected all over the place. People have it and they need to know what to do with it — they need to understand how to leverage it to make decisions.”
Weinberg junior Polina Cherepanova, who just added the data science minor, said her entry-level data science class is the largest class she’s taking this fall, with around 100 students.
Cherepanova said she appreciates the personalization of the data science sequence and the way it complements her biology degree and research. The department offers introductory courses in Python and R.
“I like programming and writing code and just learning new coding languages,” Cherepanova said. “I also like math and statistics, so I thought it would be a good combination of the two and something that I would enjoy.”
The new major, Kuyper said, will allow students to dig deeper into the statistical theory and mathematics underlying typical data science content. He also said the major will require a wider variety of classes.
Enrollment for data science classes is currently restricted to students with declared data science minors or statistics majors because the number of interested students exceeds the limited capacity of classes, Kuyper said.
“The statistics department has been lucky enough to hire a couple new instructional staff — professors to help teach these classes — so we’ve been able to serve everybody, but it’s a very, very tight fit right now,” Kuyper said.
The department has been working to scale up the program’s resources and accommodate as many interested students as possible, Kuyper said.
Weinberg senior Erica Tashma, a self-proclaimed “nerd for data,” added the data science minor in her sophomore year when it was first introduced. Her studies have included subjects like data wrangling, data visualization and predictive analysis.
Tashma said the support of faculty from the statistics department piqued her interest in the data science minor. She added that the program has significant appeal for students because of its relevance to the job market.
“It’s really attractive that if you have the expertise in machine learning, (artificial intelligence) or data science, there are a lot of jobs waiting and places wanting those skills,” Tashma said. “It’s something that’s good to add on to a Northwestern education.”
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