With demand for workers who possess the skills to analyze data continuing to grow, the Virginia Tech College of Science announced July 15 it is launching an Academy of Data Science.

Data science — a transdisciplinary field that draws upon the theories, methods, and concepts of statistics, mathematics, computer science, and information science to extract knowledge and insight from data — is impacting all branches of science, as well other fields.

The Academy of Data Science will be the transdisciplinary educational and intellectual home for College of Science students and faculty interested in the science of data science and its application to scientific problems. It will also focus on the development of methods, techniques, and tools for extracting knowledge and insight from data to further science. In doing so, it will elevate data science as a scientific discipline of its own, as well as bolstering the integration of data science into all scientific fields. 

“This is not merely about processing data, it’s about how we can use data analysis and computational modeling, melded with fundamental science, to better understand how our world works and find solutions to vexing societal issues,” said Sally C. Morton, dean of the College of Science. “This understanding allows people to make well-informed decisions that can improve the human condition.”

“The Academy of Data Science will serve as a hub for external partners in industry, foundations, government agencies, and individuals to engage with the College of Science on data science issues,” Morton added.

The Academy of Data Science will serve as the connective fabric between the College of Science and other Virginia Tech colleges and institutes as they collaborate to develop new data science methodologies and applications of data science in scientific disciplines.

The impetus for the creation of the academy was the proposals from the college’s faculty for strategic initiatives the College of Science should undertake. The need for greater emphasis on data science in support of research and as part of a scientist’s education was a theme that ran through many of the proposals, which were submitted during the college’s strategic planning process.

“Virginia Tech has come a long way in showing our students that to improve the world we live in, we must be able to translate data into actions,” Virginia Tech Provost Cyril Clarke said. “Developing graduates who have deep skills in data-driven science will help meet the need for more data scientists among Virginia’s government agencies and corporations.”

Clarke said the creation of the academy dovetails with the university’s vision to emphasize transdisciplinary work, because the skills needed to solve major problems span traditional disciplinary boundaries.

Tom Woteki, who has been named founding director of the Academy of Data Science, said, “When a business or government agency leverages data against a perplexing issue, the data scientists work hand-in-hand with experts from throughout the organization. We’ve used the term ‘collaboratory’ to emphasize the teamwork that will take place in the academy.”

Woteki, a three-time Virginia Tech alum with a Ph.D. in statistics, already heads a new data analysis and applied statistics master’s degree program in the greater Washington, D.C., metro area. Part of his new role will be to assure that the Washington, D.C., area master’s program and the work at the Blacksburg-based Academy of Data Science build synergies between each other.

Working with Woteki will be an executive committee, including Eric De Sturler, chair of the Department of Mathematics; Dave Higdon, head of the Department of Statistics; Michel Pleimling, director of the Academy of Integrated Science; Mark Embree, director of the Computational Modeling and Data Analytics program; Cal Ribbens, head of the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering; and Patricia W. Hammer, assistant dean for administration and analytics in the College of Science.

“Data science changes our world every day,” Woteki said. “The College of Science’s creation of the Academy of Data Science will help keep the college at the forefront of developing and advancing this essential scientific discipline.”

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