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The University of Virginia’s Data Science Education and Data Science Institute

By   /  July 26, 2017  /  No Comments

data science educationThe University of Virginia was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, and is now offering a Master of Science degree in Data Science (MSDS), and a new “dual degree” with a Master in Business Administration and a Master of Science in Data Science (MBA/MSDS). Their goal is to prepare the leaders of tomorrow in using the tools of Data Science. To accomplish this, the University of Virginia (U.Va. or UVA) has developed programs outside the traditional norms, preferring to use a blueprint in which Data Science education plays a major role in science and business research.

The mission of the UVA’s Data Science Institute is to achieve excellence in education and research in the field of Data Science. Teresa Sullivan, the University of Virginia’s president, stated:

“Society’s most pressing challenges and nature’s deepest mysteries frequently involve large, complex systems. The behavior of these systems is best understood by handling large amounts of data, thus the term Big Data. To solve our most pressing challenges, we need to develop new ways to acquire, analyze, and make sense out of Big Data.”

The Data Science Institute’s faculty consists of a broad, interdisciplinary group of educators, engineers, humanists, and scientists, each of whom has identified Data Science as critical to their research. The Jefferson Trust has given the Data Science Institute a grant for grad students “from diverse disciplines” to join Big Data research projects. Starting in 2013, students from all university departments were invited to seek out teams working on Big Data, or Data Science, projects. The Jefferson Trust has grown since 2013 and is now called the Presidential Fellowship in Data Science (President Obama supported the program).

A Master of Science in Data Science

The Master of Science in Data Science (MSDS) degree program is an 11-month program. It begins in mid-July and is completed in mid-May of the following year. Faculty from the Computer Science department and the departments of Statistics, and Systems and Information Engineering teach the core classes. The program is designed to provide an understanding of computer languages, linear modeling, and computation, allowing students to the practice and apply Data Science in more advanced classes. The program finishes with a capstone project, and the students using their training to deal with real-world Data Science problems, and present their solutions in a public presentation.

This program has three features which a student should consider when evaluating schools and Data Science degrees: 1) the data experience is combined with an integrated curriculum; 2) the classes and program are described as compressed; and 3) a cohort experience is part of the program. The curriculum is somewhat inflexible, with roughly 80 percent of the courses required for all students.

Several large complex data sets are woven into the courses to increase program cohesion. The compressed curriculum minimizes the time spent in school, and the cohort experience teaches students to work together as teams. The program’s capstone project gives students a real-world project to work on. Students begin this work with a proposal stating their objectives, and are then guided and mentored through the experience to completion. The completed projects are evaluated by faculty members from a variety of disciplines.

A Dual Masters in Business Administration and Data Science

The University of Virginia’s “Darden Institute” has developed a new Business-Science Data program.  This Master of Business Administration, combined with a Master of Science in Data Science, is intended to provide the training and cutting-edge tools needed for students to handle a variety of technical and business needs.

Raj Venkatesan, a Darden professor and faculty leader said:

“This new dual degree represents an incredibly exciting development for the Darden School and prospective students. There is a clear demand from students for this kind of analytics-driven curriculum and from organizations for employees who can harness the almost limitless power of Big Data to develop new business models. These graduates will be coveted hires and become indispensable leaders.”

Projects Worked On

2015-2016 Projects:

2014-2015 Projects:

2013-2014 Projects:

  • MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) or “Free Online Classes!”
  • Counting Bicycles: New Data from Existing Cameras

One Student’s Review

Tyler Worthington, who received a Master of Science in Data Science in 2017 from University of Virginia, wrote:

“First Semester: This is mainly an introductory semester lasting 6 weeks which is mainly trying to get everyone caught up to speed on programming skills. We cover basic concepts of programming in R and Python. This can be very slow and frustrating for those who already have these backgrounds but gives new students a decent introduction. To succeed in the program though students will really have to try to hone their programming outside of the classroom. Our Linear Models course was really detailed and dives into the details you would ever wanted to know about linear models but is at times redundant with data mining and for those with statistics backgrounds. Read more here.

Student Events

One of the largest events at UVA is Springfest, which happens each year in the spring, and offers a free concert, and various games and inflatables. Foxfield is another popular event that takes place in nearby Albemarle County and is traditionally attended by thousands of UVA students, and neighboring colleges.

  • Rotunda Sing

This is a simple, pleasant afternoon on the Lawn. The Rotunda Sing is basically an impressive acapella concert at the Rotunda. It happens in the early fall, in warm weather, with a variety of beautiful lights shown on the Rotunda steps. The event also provides the acapella groups with an opportunity to advertise their audition times.

  • Pancakes for Parkinson’s

This event that was created 2003 at UVA to raise funds for Team Fox, (a Michael J. Fox Foundation team) to benefit Parkinson’s research. Students can volunteer to make pancakes, or simply enjoy eating them. The event is described as enjoyable for all ages, and brings the UVA and Charlottesville’s community together.


Photo Credit: University of Virginia



About the author

Keith is a freelance researcher and writer.He has traveled extensively and is a military veteran. His background is physics, and business with an emphasis on Data Science. He gave up his car, preferring to bicycle and use public transport. Keith enjoys yoga, mini adventures, spirituality, and chocolate ice cream.

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