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In a rapidly digitizing world, enterprises have the ability to store enormous amounts of data. Now, companies are focused on processing this data.

Spanning statistics, computer science and mathematics, data science is a swiftly expanding field. Organizations increasingly seek individuals who can extract valuable information from huge amounts of largely unstructured data. Data scientists use advanced technical tools and algorithms for data mining, programming and organizing and analyzing data. Their findings can help influence business decisions, making data scientists an essential asset to practically all industries.

To foster student engagement in data science education and outreach, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Central Coast Data Science Initiative (CCDS) has awarded over $1.2 million to four universities and colleges. UC Santa Barbara has been granted nearly $920,000 over three years.

The initiative will teach students “the underlying principles of data science, including data-generating processes and the role of measurement, ethics and privacy, information-processing tools for harnessing the power of big data, and the oral and written communication skills necessary for pursuing effective professional careers in the field,” according to the CCDS website.

Alongside UC Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara City College, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and CSU San Bernardino are partners in this consortium.

At UCSB, the initiative will build “on existing strengths” and “emphasize programming and data inference within the context of application domains that is critical to training in data science,” its website states.

“The NSF grant is specifically meant to bolster the undergraduate education in data science, and is helping to both fund a cohort of motivated fellows to engage them in community outreach and on-campus data science education such as by tutoring fellow undergraduates or assisting with the capstone sequence as well as funding the computational systems needed to train students in data science,” Haraldur Hallgrimsson, a Ph.D. candidate in the computer science department who is advising and coordinating this initiative, said in an email.

UCSB’s Data Science Fellowship program will sponsor over 30 students each year for two total cohorts. Fellows are paid a $5,000 annual stipend provided by the NSF grant, receive hands-on training in data science, engage in outreach activities and mentoring and serve as ambassadors for data science in their institution.

UCSB recently began offering introductory data science classes co-developed by the department of computer science and the department of statistics and applied probability. With the help of the grant, they will be offering a year-long, three-course sequence for fellows to synthesize and apply data science tools and techniques they’ve previously learned in a large-scale capstone project involving local industry partners.

“This will involve small student teams collaborating with local data science companies and institutes to get valuable hands on experience,” Hallgrimsson described. These courses will start in Fall 2020.

“The NSF grant is also helping to rally together faculty from many departments around this interdisciplinary initiative, as well as support from the local data science community,” Hallgrimsson wrote.

Ambuj Singh, a professor in the departments of computer science and biomolecular science and engineering, will serve as the lead principal investigator for the initiative’s efforts at UCSB. Other principal investigators include Michael Ludkovski, professor and chair of the department of statistics and applied probability; Alex Franks and Sang-Yun Oh, assistant professors in the department of statistics and applied probability; and Yekaterina Kharitonova, an assistant teaching professor in the computer science department. Senior personnel include John Gilbert, professor and vice chair in the department of computer science, and B.S. Manjunath, director of the university’s Center for Multimodal Big Data Science and Healthcare and the Center for Bio-image Informatics.

The fellowship application period is currently open and ends on April 17, 2020. More information, including the application, can be found here

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