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Sunday, April 5, 2020

Academics & Research

Data and Society minor coming to Honors College


Although housed in the Honors College, the Data and Society minor is open to all majors and to non-Honors students. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

Although housed in the Honors College, the Data and Society minor is open to all majors and non-honors students. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

Students who want to critically engage with questions related to data science and how data is used in society may have the option of a new minor as soon as next semester.

The Data and Society minor is projected to become available to all students starting in Fall 2020, pending approval by the Office of the Provost. 

Although housed in the Honors College, the Data and Society minor is open to all majors and to non-honors students. The course of study is intended to provide students across disciplines an understanding of what drives data science questions — regardless of their technical skill in data analytics.

“Anyone who is looking toward having intelligent things to say about how data is used in our society based on some acquaintance with techniques, but not necessarily mastery, should come and see (the program’s offerings),” said Dan Price, upcoming director of the Data and Society program and clinical associate professor in the Honors College and the College of Medicine.

The minor will require fifteen hours of coursework structured as five three-hour courses. Two courses, Principles of Data and Society and Data and Society in Practice, comprise a mandatory six-hour sequence that participants take before electives within the minor. 

“The idea behind that two-course sequence is to prepare students with a set of theoretical perspectives and background understanding of a set of tools and approaches that are used in data science,” said Andrew Kapral, director of Engaged Data Science at the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Data Science Institute.

Kapral will work with Price to connect the work of students in the Data and Society minor to engagement programming through the Engaged Data Science ProgramA minimum of one visiting assistant professor and potentially additional lecturers will be hired to teach courses for the minor.

The minor is already partnered with entities on and off campus, including the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Pharis Fellowship, to allow students in the minor to engage in experiential learning and research opportunities outside of the classroom. 

“It (the fellowship) would be adjacent to the minor,” Price said. “It’s not part of the minor requirements, but it helps kind of structure how we’re doing things. We have a lot of existing stuff in health and education with HISD and some of the other folks out in that community space, but we’re not limited to that.” 

The interdisciplinary and project-based approach of the minor gives students the tools to begin their own research projects. 

“We (the program) will use those first courses to focus students in on existing projects, and as they transition to the second course and to the elective part of the minor they’ll be set up to begin their own research projects and weave their own research in Data and Society,” Kapral said. “We’re hoping that students choose to do some independent research as part of the minor.” 

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