Provost announces the next phase of the Presidential Initiative in Data Science

November 5, 2018

I am pleased to announce the launch of the next phase of the University of Oregon’s Presidential Initiative in Data Science, the goal of which is to enhance and expand all areas of scholarly activity in data science across our university.

To help lead this phase, I have appointed Professor Bill Cresko, biology, as the founding director of the Data Science Program. His primary charge is to work with faculty and students from across campus to implement key research and educational components of the vision for our data science program over the coming years in a way that builds a university-wide program.

He will be assisted by a steering committee made up of Sarah E. Nutter, dean of the Lundquist College of Business; Marcilynn A. Burke, dean of the School of Law; Hal Sadofsky, natural sciences divisional dean for the College of Arts and Sciences; and Elizabeth Skowron, vice president of the University Senate. This committee will play a leadership role in providing oversight, direction, and support for the growth of our program. Both the steering committee and the director will report to me, and we will work together as a team to promote the growth of our program.

In addition, faculty leaders are being recruited from across campus to help build research and educational components in areas such as environmental big data, business analytics, biomedical data science, and data science of social interactions and social impacts. Others areas will undoubtedly grow organically over the coming years.

Data science is transforming society and scholarship within universities, including ours. Faculty and students across our campus have initiated and grown diverse data science activities across campus, primarily in isolation of one another.

The university is now prepared to develop an integrated data science effort to support and enhance these activities by building on our long history as a liberal arts research university with a strong culture of interdisciplinary activities. This interdisciplinary research and educational effort will be one of the UO’s highest priorities in the coming years.

Last year, I charged a Data Science Visioning Committee, comprising faculty and other representatives from across the university, with developing a comprehensive proposal for how best to develop the program. The recommendation of the committee was strongly informed by other programs at top universities, as well as the needs of potential employers of our students trained by our new program.

The committee considered a variety of things, including determining overall scope and structure, areas of research strength and opportunities at the UO, educational models, and approaches at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The committee also considered how the program would best build bridges across our campus, as well as with other universities in Oregon, and academic and industry partners along the West Coast.

The committee presented its initial recommendations to me at the end of the winter term 2018 and submitted a final version at the end of spring term 2018. President Michael Schill and I have now accepted the committee’s report and its recommendations. This is an ambitious plan that can potentially support nearly every aspect of scholarly activity within our university. For more information, read the Presidential Initiative in Data Science report.

The committee developed the following core principles for the implementation of the Data Science Initiative at the UO:

  • Be well connected across the university, and include both research and education.
  • Build upon the long history of interdisciplinary research at the UO.
  • Capitalize on the identity and strength of the university being a liberal arts research university.
  • Leapfrog historical structural weaknesses in applied math and computation.
  • Help build bridges to new academic and societal partners.

The committee proposed a data science ecosystem, comprised of numerous interacting and interconnected components within and outside of the university. This “hub-and-spoke” model promotes connectivity along existing areas of scholarship and education at UO, and also supports and guides the organic growth of the initiative over the next decade. The model includes:

  • A methodological hub that contains much of the research and educational expertise for implementation of data science such as data collection, database creation and curation, as well as statistical and computational analysis. In addition, several aspects of design, communication, ethics and law could also be components of the core.
  • Domain spokes that are areas where the research and educational activities are focused primarily on a particular field or problem. Faculty in these spokes may gather large amounts of data and use advanced analytic tools that are common to those in the hub, but their primary research and educational focus will always be first on their domain area of expertise.
  • A ring of connectivity that facilitates UO to have greater impacts on the world by increasing connectivity with other academic institutions, government agencies, and industry partners.

I want to thank the Data Science Visioning Committee for its hard work, and I am very excited about what has emerged. I want to thank the faculty and students who over many years have worked to build the foundation for data science research and education at the UO, and I look forward to us building a program that supports and enhances this work.

Jayanth Banavar
Provost and Senior Vice President