In such uncertain times, it can be difficult to know how to prepare for the future. One of the biggest problems facing new students is what they should major in. Luckily, the Business Analytics department has come together to establish a new major for any tentative freshman unsure of their major: Data Science.
Deciding on a college major can be hard for anyone. But if you’re still uncertain of your major, look no further than the new Data Science major. Professor Ameera Ibrahim detailed the battle to get Data Science to SMC as a full on major, as opposed to a minor, which it had only been offered as before.
“The effort started a year ago, at the department of business analytics. We talked to students to gauge what their interests are, and also spoke to people who worked in the industry about how it was evolving. Once we realized how strong the demand was, we proposed a potential program on campus, and talked at length about how it would benefit students.”
For all the liberal arts majors out there, this subject sounds confusing, and even intimidating. What exactly is Data Science?
“Data Science is an interdisciplinary field that combines domain expertise with programming skills,” Professor Ibrhaim explains. “The key is to extract value from data, and figure out how to get value from massive amounts of data. Sometimes, if the insights aren’t immediately apparent, you have to build algorithms and models to gain insight. Businesses use this all the time, so that they can improve their business relations.”
If that sounds even more confusing and abstract, Professor Ibrahim has a number of real-world examples to help illustrate her point.
“A very modern, relatable application would be when you type something into Google and it generates accurate results,” Professor Ibrahim explained. “That’s all machine learning that knows what to generate. Another example is when you get things recommended to you, say by Amazon or something, based on your search or purchase history. This kind of stuff is all linked together.”
A more complex example that might present itself in the real world would have to do with using data to make complex decisions that can have a major societal impact.
“A practical example would be in the field of healthcare analytics” Professor Ibrahim says. “Right now I’m analyzing data from sepsis patients admitted to the hospital over the last six years. We’re trying to predict how to enhance treatment for these patients. We can predict how quickly things will deteriorate, and use that model to predict the future so that the patient can make the best decision for what their next step in treatment will be.”
While all of this may sound very math-intensive, Professor Ibrahim takes care to note that this major isn’t limited to STEM majors.
“For the major, I would recommend any student who sees themselves as good critical thinkers, and problem solvers. Even if they’ve never tried programming before, they can do it on a minor scale and decide if it’s for them. For the minor, I think everyone should take it. Almost every field involves data now, so it would make sense to have at least some understanding of what it means to analyze it.”
Professor Ibrahim’s statement is correct. Data science is quickly becoming one of the most popular fields out there. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, data science is expected to grow 31 percent between 2019 and 2029. This is astonishing when you consider that the average growth rate for most jobs is only 4 percent. For Professor Ibrahim, the major is only the start of the field’s growth and potential at SMC.
“At some point anyone dealing with data will have to have some kind of background in these skills” Professor Ibrahim muses. “I think it will be especially important at SMC, because here we’re teaching students to be critical thinkers, which is very different from being a mere problem solver. SMC also places a strong emphasis on ethics and responsibility, which makes me confident that future data scientists coming out of SMC will use their skills in a responsible and ethical manner.”
Melanie Moyer '22,