New degree prepares students for the world of big data

To help turn graduate students into sought-after data mining and programming specialists, the College of Arts and Sciences has established the Master of Science in Data Science that begins this fall. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami
By David Menconi

To help turn graduate students into sought-after data mining and programming specialists, the College of Arts and Sciences has established the Master of Science in Data Science that begins this fall. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

New degree prepares students for the world of big data

By David Menconi
Offered this fall, the Master of Science in Data Science will tailor its curriculum for multiple fields.

Every field uses data science in some way, which makes the emerging profession one of the most promising career paths today. To help turn University of Miami graduate students into sought-after data mining and programming specialists, the College of Arts and Sciences has established the Master of Science in Data Science that begins this fall. One of the most interdisciplinary degrees ever offered at the University, it will feature tracks in technical data science, data visualization, smart cities, and marine and atmospheric science. 

“We’ve created a degree that’s truly unique,” said Maryann Tatum Tobin, assistant dean of professional education and personalized learning for the college. “Most data science degrees are based on engineering or computer science, and we wanted to go beyond that to make an interdisciplinary program using the diverse resources we have at UM,’’ she added. “This program will allow students with any background to apply. We will even provide the prerequisite coursework. It’s the first data science program that really crosses disciplines.”

The yearlong program, which interested students can learn more about at a virtual open house on April 1, consists of 30 credit hours, with four classes in the fall, four classes in the spring, and  a summer internship. 

Three years in the making, the new program was a group effort—spurred in part by conversations between departments about ways to collaborate—along with market research showing that most data science employers require masters-level training. The college’s Department of Computer Science spearheaded the design in coordination with the University of Miami Institute for Data Science and Computing, formerly the Center for Computational Science. 

Now, the college is collaborating with the School of Architecture, the School of Communication, the School of Education and Human Development, the College of Engineering, and the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science about the curriculum. It goes well beyond what most institutions offer by tailoring its data science degree toward real-world applications in a range of fields. 

The program also is distinctive because the University is home to one of the nation’s fastest supercomputers. Customized for the University by IBM, the $3.7 million Triton can process artificial intelligence and machine learning workloads in real time. And in an agreement with AT&T, the University is about to become the first academic institution to deploy AT&T’s 5G+ and Multi-access Edge Computing technology, which will deliver more data, including pictures and videos, from the internet to wireless devices at a faster pace.

“This is a bold first step in looking at data through a holistic lens,” Tobin said. “Since we have these fantastic resources here, it was time to go big or go home—pull together and make something unique in a degree that allows students to move forward in any area they’re interested in. They can explore the breadth of data science across the entire University curriculum.”

“We are very excited about it,” added Mitsunori Ogihara, computer science professor and director of the master’s degree program. “It’s the fastest supercomputer in Florida and one of the fastest in the nation. If students in the program are interested, they’ll get experience running a big machine using big data.”

Another draw, Ogihara pointed out, will be the various internship opportunities in which students can pick up practical experience prior to graduation—which can make all the difference when it comes to seeking employment.

Recruiting for the first class, which is estimated to be about 20 students, is underway. But there is room to grow. A parallel data science program for undergraduates is in development, and there are plans for an accelerated B.S./M.S. program.