data science

A First Date with Data

By David Menconi

A First Date with Data

By David Menconi
New course designed to decode data science for all

From healthcare to transportation to online shopping, data permeates every aspect of modern life. Its principles and applications spur knowledge and insights in a wide range of disciplines and endeavors. Rather than being all about number-crunching, data analysis even has applications in the humanities.

To engage and enlighten students interested in pursuing data science, the College of Arts & Sciences launched a Master of Science in Data Science program in Fall 2020. The college is now unveiling an undergraduate course in the topic with a distinctly global name: “Data Science for the World,” available to students from any major.

According to the course’s creators, the sweeping scale of that title is deliberate.

“The main thing we want to convey about the new course is its interdisciplinary nature,” says Jerry Bonnell, a doctoral student in the Department of Computer Science, who developed the class in collaboration with Mitsunori Ogihara, a professor of computer science. “We want it to be approachable from any discipline and welcoming to students from all majors.”

“Data Science for the World” represents the first attempt by the department and college to offer an introduction to data science, specifically designed for accessibility to students pursuing studies outside of the typical STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) rubric.

“We hope to attract as many students as possible, because we believe data science is becoming a fundamental skill in the future job market,” says Ogihara. “Students will leave the course with new knowledge on how to engage with data and a set of tools they can use in their studies and careers.

“Our goal is to draw from as many real-world examples and settings as we can—and to have some fun along the way.”

In that spirit, course assignments, topics, and projects will include a case study of football statistics, inspired by the “Deflategate” controversy stemming from a 2014 New England Patriots NFL game; financial analysis of stock market prices; Harvard University admissions data broken out by race; a novel approach to visualizing data scales; a data-driven approach to analyzing the popular fantasy game “Dungeons and Dragons”; and the use of regression analysis to predict everything from Old Faithful eruptions at Yellowstone National Park to Spotify music stream popularity.

“Data science does some of its best work when it reaches beyond its own discipline,” Bonnell says, noting its applications for liberal arts disciplines such as the classics, history, and literature. “For example,  for scholars studying the works of Shakespeare and of authors of the ancient world such as Homer and Virgil, the body of available texts can be so large that no one can possibly read them all. Data tools such as textual analysis provide new lenses with which to broaden perspective and deepen understanding.”

If the course goes as Ogihara and Bonnell hope, students drawn from an array of academic programs and majors will come away prepared to apply data analysis to a wide range of situations. It will also inspire students intrigued by the power of data to dig deeper.

“Sitting at the intersection of computer science and other departments, the course will serve as a conduit to more advanced classes such as statistical learning and the computational sciences,” Bonnell says.

“By providing that bridge for students, I think we’ll achieve something great.”

To learn more about the Department of Computer Science, visit