The Science of Data

Alverno launches new data science program

Advances in computer processing have made it easier than ever to collect previously unfathomable amounts of data. Now students in Alverno’s new data science major and minor will learn how to decipher those mountains of data to solve problems and reveal insights.

“We created the program because of the sheer amount of data that people need to come to grips with and make sense of,” says Lois Kailhofer, PhD, chair of mathematics and computing. “We need to make it accessible. There’s information out there waiting to be discovered, but you need a way to visualize it, to put context and meaning into all those numbers.”

Mining data can help businesses figure out everything from where they get their customers to what products they should — or shouldn’t — offer. Career opportunities can range from tech companies like Google to insurance companies like Northwestern Mutual.

“This is a relatively new field, and it is growing and in demand,” Kailhofer says. “A quick survey of LinkedIn and job descriptions shows that a lot of companies are asking for data science skills.”

The major blends new and existing courses from the Mathematics and Computing Department, including Python programming, machine learning, probability, advanced statistics, and a capstone data science course. But a good data scientist needs more than just technical skills, and data ethics is a key part of Alverno’s program.

“So much of data science is susceptible to bias so you need to make sure the data you’re using is as bias-free as you can make it,” Kailhofer says.

The data science major and minor also pair well with other majors, such as biology, psychology and public health.

“Data science is, at its heart, cross-disciplinary,” Kailhofer says. “Data science is really a way to explore more efficiently whatever you’re interested in. If you’re interested in biology and you really want to understand the life cycles of some animal or plant, or you’re interested in art and you want to see how architecture has changed over the history of a location in Italy, you can do that.”

— Nicole Sweeney Etter

Biology + data science = A perfect fit

For Rachel Manselle, choosing a science major was a no-brainer.

“My dad’s a science teacher and my mom’s a nurse. I’ve always loved science,” says Manselle, pictured above.

Manselle, class of 2022, declared a biology major as a foundation for doctoral studies in genetics; she hopes to pursue a career in cancer research. She recently added a data science minor at the urging of her faculty advisor.

“Combining data science with my biology major combines both my passions and will better prepare me for a research career,” she explains.

Manselle is already getting hands-on experience in both fields. This summer, she participated in a genetics research project on campus as a Powers Fellow. She also interned for Milwaukee Riverkeeper, analyzing years of the nonprofit’s data on E. coli levels in local rivers to create a 10-year report.

Manselle is confident that the real-world experience she gained this summer will set her up for success in the classroom and beyond.

“I’m able to analyze data, identify trends and explain them,” she says.

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