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Upcoming online Master's of Applied Data Science program expands opportunities in data


School of Data Science and Society Dean Stanley Ahalt poses for a picture. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Classes for UNC's new Master's of Applied Data Science program, which aims to provide graduate students and working professionals with the ability to advance their knowledge in data science, will begin in January 2024.

To launch this new, primarily online degree, UNC partnered with The Graduate School, the UNC Office of Digital and Lifelong Learning and 2U, an online education company.

“To me, the most important aspect of this is that it allows people who are currently in the workforce to have the options of either adding another degree to their resume or to just get some classes,” Stanley Ahalt, dean of the UNC School of Data Science and Society, said.

Ahalt said that there are many people who are looking to improve their resume and can benefit financially from developing their data science skills.

Students in the MADS program will have a choice in how they complete this degree. The School of Data Science and Society will offer both live and asynchronous classes.

Arcot Rajasekar will be teaching an introductory course for advanced data science for the new program. Rajasekar is a current UNC professor for the School of Information and Library Science and one of the chief scientists at the Renaissance Computing Institute. 

“This is for people who are already in the industry and who would like to find new types of tools and techniques and methodologies which are useful for them to deal with their data problems,” Rajasekar said.

Rajasekar said that students will gain the proper skills for approaching current and future technology through this program.

"Data science is becoming really important, in a sense, as they call it, 'Data is the new currency,'" he said. "And if you want to deal with data and do large data, what is called big data, you need to have the proper tools to do that."

Kristen Young, the director of communications at the School of Data Science and Society, said that all participants in the MADS program will have the opportunity to participate in an immersion experience that includes staying on campus for two or three days, as well as meeting peers and professors.

“This is an experience that we'll provide as an option for online students to have some time on campus and working together in person,” Young said. 

Ahalt said that there is a high market demand for those with a degree in data science, and that the program would be doing a service for North Carolinians.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for data scientists is projected to grow 36 percent between 2021 and 2031. The average employment growth over this time period is five percent.

Students of the program will get to apply their findings to the real world through the MADS capstone projects. For example, Ahalt said the program is considering working with companies in the Triangle to provide students with real-world experiences. 

The MADS program not only helps students develop their data science skills, but also equips students with ethical understanding, Rajasekar said. He said that students will also learn how data science can provide avenues for doing good in society. 

Those applying to this master's program do not need to have a data science degree, but, Ahalt said the MADS program will require fundamental mathematics, an understanding of programming and a basic working knowledge of some data science modeling. 

“We're pretty flexible," Ahalt said. "We're going to require some basic skill set coming into the program, but we're trying to make this very accessible."

Applications for the program have been available online since Wednesday, June 21. The deadline for submissions is Tuesday, Nov. 14.

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