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UNC to offer Bachelors of Science and Arts in data science beginning this fall

Shara He, the president of the Carolina Analytics Data Science Club, works on her data science project on Tuesday, April 19, 2022.

Beginning this fall, two new majors in data science will be added to UNC’s academic catalog — a Bachelor of Science offered through the School of Data Science and Society, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in data science within the College of Arts and Sciences. 

Stan Ahalt, inaugural dean of the School of Data Science and Society, said that in today's world, there is a need to have a discipline at UNC organized around the study of data. 

“Data is just affecting all of us in profound ways,” Ahalt said

Requiring at least 60 credit hours, Ahalt said the Bachelor of Science degree is designed to be advanced from a computational standpoint, and with a greater degree of study in statistical methods and mathematical principles related to data science. 

“We want to make sure that the people who graduate with a B.S. in data science are well prepared to develop new algorithms and look at analytics, machine learning and generative AI,” Ahalt said. “They would be perhaps joining the workforce not as an analyst, but as a designer of analysis.”

Prospective students for the Bachelor of Science in data science must apply for the major by March 31 after completing Data Science 110: Introduction to Data Science, as well as several prerequisite courses in calculus, statistics and computer science. Ahalt said he anticipates about 75-100 students will be accepted into the program for its first year. 

As for the Bachelor of Arts in data science, the degree will only require 39 credit hours for completion and does not require a formal application for the major. 

Jaye Cable, senior associate dean for natural sciences, said the Bachelor of Arts degree is more appropriate for students interested in specific disciplinary areas such as geography, political science and chemistry. 

“It's a much more applied approach,” Cable said. “The idea is that the degree provides you with skills to work with data in a broad context, but also an opportunity to choose concentrations or classes that would be applied to a particular discipline.”

Christopher DeWitt, a master's student in the applied data science program, said he thinks it is good that schools like UNC are embracing the interdisciplinary nature of data science. When he was an undergraduate student in the mid-2000s, DeWitt said programs in data science were much less extensive.

“I kind of cobbled together a data science curriculum, and I feel like I had to take an awful lot of classes that I probably didn't need in hindsight,” DeWitt said. “You need to learn more of what you really enjoy and what you're really passionate about. I think that's always a good thing.”

DeWitt, who also works for Bank of America, said the data science program at UNC provided him a platform to improve his programming knowledge and widen his career paths to other jobs related to economics and finance. 

Stefania Chiang, a junior at UNC minoring in data science, said the minor has been practical for her in providing technical skills and coding expertise as an economics and statistics double major. 

“If you tell your employers that you have a sense of data, I think it makes you a good candidate,” Chiang said

She also said many of the skills she learned as a data science minor have been useful when working with datasets in her other classes. 

As a previous director of the Renaissance Computing Institute at UNC, Ahalt said the ability to understand data has been especially important within the past 10 years, providing insights on treatment procedures, technologies and personal health. 

“I want to emphasize that when we named the school the School of Data Science and Society, the word 'society' was not an afterthought,” Ahalt said. “It was central to our thinking that this is an incredibly important area for us to emphasize.”

Cable said general interest for the major has been substantial since the data science minor’s introduction in fall 2021, with 1,072 data science minors enrolled across 52 different majors as of January 2024. 

Although not finalized, concentrations in disciplines like sports analytics and economics will also be made available for the Bachelor of Arts  degree in the future. 

"I want to say how excited I am about this program and the data science degrees," Cable said. "I'm thrilled for the students."


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