Western’s new data science undergraduate program is aiming to equip the next generation of professionals with the skills and knowledge to thrive in an increasingly data-reliant society.
The new program, officially launched in the fall of 2021, is interdisciplinary with integration from departments in both the Faculty of Science and Faculty of Engineering, and support from other faculties, such as Social Science, Information and Media Studies, and Health Sciences.
“We want students to feel empowered and have the skills to utilize the techniques they learn in a practical sense,” said Jörn Diedrichsen, director of the undergraduate data science programs. “When we designed the courses, we started with identifying what we want them to be able to do after taking the course, then using that to create the homework assignments and labs that teach those skills, then the lecture material that supplements those applications,”
There are many career opportunities for data scientists. In fact, it’s the top-rated profession in 2021, according to careercast.com.
“The demand for data scientists and data literacy is growing; we live in a world of data. This skillset – the ability to handle, analyze and visualize data – is becoming essential,” said Mark Daley, professor, department of computer science and special advisor to the president on data strategy. “This program will prepare students of all disciplines to have the fundamental tools for a career in the 21st century.”
With the new data science undergraduate program, students can choose their desired level of specialization, from a deep foundation with an honours specialization or major, to a minor or certificate tailored to build data science skills for students from all faculties across campus.
Recognizing that data science can be daunting, but incredibly useful for students’ future careers, the courses were developed to be accessible to all students – removing challenging pre-requisite barriers and creating courses for all levels of experience, such as Data Science 1000.
In addition to the practical nature of assignments and labs, the exams are all open-book to simulate real-life experiences. “Students can rest assured that if they put in the work, they can finish the course with a good grade and a useful new set of skills,” Daley said.
The interdisciplinary data science program is a result of collaboration among different faculties. This program wouldn’t have been possible if the involved deans, associate deans and department chairs had not been progressive in enabling interdepartmental teaching and championing the collaboration that is needed for this type of discipline, said Diedrichsen.