As students at College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University tackle their coursework in the 2022-23 academic year, they have a new major to consider: data science.

For the past 15 years, the Mathematics and Computer Science departments of Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s have collaborated to offer a degree in Numerical Computation. The idea was to use mathematics, computer science and a third discipline – chemistry or physics, for example – to give students a modern view of the explosion of data available today and increasing in the world. coming.

“Data is the new black gold,” said Bob Hesse, co-chair math professor of the new data science program, along with Imad Rahal, head of the computer science department. “Numerical calculation has never had the expected success. We noticed that students pursuing the num comp major selected courses that anywhere else would be a data science major. So we realized we needed to reorganize, focus course selections, and rename the data science major.

The new major should not be confused with the minor in data analysis available at CSB and SJU. This program, launched two years ago, is intended to complete a major, whether in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), social sciences or humanities. The minor gives students the tools to analyze, make visualizations and tell the story behind the data.

The data science major, on the other hand, is for students who want to not only use the tools, but also modify or create new machine learning algorithms. If you love math, statistics, and programming, and want to use all of these tools, this is the major for you.

“I was once one of those students who loved math but really didn’t know what to do with it, and that was the only thing that kept me from committing to a math major,” Rahal said. , who earned a degree in computer science in 2001 from the Lebanese American University, followed by a master’s and doctoral degree from North Dakota State University, and was a faculty member at CSB and the SJU for more than 17 years. “I took a lot of math, and I took a lot of computer science and I was like, ‘This is something I can use. This is something I can get a job with. Our students don’t really shouldn’t worry about job prospects and if you want to continue with math, by all means do. But my belief is that data science will be wonderful preparation for a career and you will probably get caught right away with the expertise you have.

Those the future may be in business, industry, research or education. Data scientists uncover new knowledge and aid in the decision-making process in virtually every major field. Positions include administrators, enterprise IT analysts, clinical data managers, data analysts, data architects, data engineers, machine learning engineers, marketing analysts, mathematicians, and statisticians. According to luck, Data science jobs are a top choice for Gen Zand Harvard Business Review said the field is a most popular from 21st century.

Sean Landman ’10 is a good example of what is possible. He earned a degree in numerical computation, used it as a stepping stone to an MS and PhD in computer science at the University of Minnesota, and is now a research director at Medtronic. He specializes in data science and the development of algorithms for the diagnosis and monitoring of heart disease.

“I don’t think I even heard of the computational major when I came to Saint John’s,” said Landman, who is from Maple Grove, Minn., went to Totino Grace High School and graduated a summa cum laude degree from SJU. “I’ve dabbled in all the sciences and I’ve always been interested in IT. Both of my parents are computer engineers, so I guess I was genetically predisposed to it. I did some programming in high school, but I was interested in a lot of things. I took courses in physics and biology, chemistry and mathematics. At one point, I was considering a natural science major that would have combined a lot of that. But numerical computation allowed me to take more math courses that interested me and to personalize my lessons more than if I had just taken math or computer science. I liked the flexibility of having both as a big part of my degree.

This part has not changed.

Graduates choose 52 credits from an extensive degree menu

The data science major totals 52 credits, 40 of which are common requirements. To be accepted, students must show at least a 2.5 grade point average in CSCI 150 (Introduction to Computing in the Liberal Arts and Sciences), CSCI 160 (Problem Solving, Programming, and Computers), MATH 119 /120 (Calculation I and II).

Twelve elective course units support the major, which includes several courses that were not part of the Numerical Computation major.

“The new major sounds good and defines the program better,” Landman said. “Data science is a description that did not exist not so long ago. It’s a major. These are programs. It’s a job title. It shows the connection of all these fields. It’s for people interested in programming and computer science, but more on the research side – like software engineering. It is also for people interested in mathematics, which can be very theoretical and academic. Data science is a way of taking an interest in it and giving it specific applications.

“Companies are interested in data science and it is a booming field. This is how you turn math into a career. You can look all around and find new products that are the results of data scientists making recommendations about your streaming service or Spotify, things your Apple Watch or FitBit will tell you, information about how you sleep … all of this is the result of data scientists who create these things.

Alumni applaud changes, say pitch crackles with opportunity

Even before Bardia Bajani ’20 graduated in numerical computing, he proposed to Hesse and Rahal the idea of ​​moving into data science. In fact, Bajani already lists data science in parentheses behind his undergraduate education on his resume, which now includes a master’s degree in management information systems and digital innovation from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“I was very happy to hear that they were making these changes. The data science major puts you in a position to maximize the return on available tools and create some of your own,” said Bajani, an international student from Sweden, whose parents are Iranian and who has since moved to England.

He became interested in entrepreneurship at CSB and SJU, met a business partner at LSE and co-founded FuzeQube Group, which invests in innovative projects. The company is launching seven new brands and provides an infrastructure for businesses to grow and share resources. He said the interdisciplinary education he found in Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s allowed him to synthesize the best training in computer science and math.

“My honors thesis was unrelated to any of the formal techniques you apply in either,” Bajani said. “Mine was on digital ethics. We’re in a society where a lot of what we do is tracked and a lot of what we do can be quantified in one form or another. It’s not entirely positive that we have so much data in our hands, but it does provide a great opportunity nonetheless. Being able to model based on the data you have is extremely valuable. As an entrepreneur, it’s extremely valuable because when I’m able to quantify something, it’s not my opinion but the data and the facts that speak.

“I’m definitely building on a foundation that was established in Saint John’s. I saw myself as more of an analytical person before I took the leap of faith and joined the entrepreneurship program there. I still have amazing friends from this network, and it set a precedent for the rest of my career.

Students from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University work in a computer lab in the main building of the CSB campus. Starting this fall, a new major – data science – will be available for those interested in a combination of computer science, math, and other disciplines.

Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s are particularly well placed to deliver

Rahal said the evolution of the data science major is a natural progression of the discipline, and that Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s are uniquely positioned with independent computer science and math departments (which you would find in a large university) but also in an intimate environment that allows students to work on research in collaboration with professors like Rahal and Hesse.

Hesse said such a combination, along with the liberal arts found at CSB and SJU, will produce graduates who can tell a story or paint a figurative picture of how concepts interpret data.

“That’s what sets us apart,” he says.