Data science minor may be held at Pomona, proposal under development

A small data science course at Pomona College could become a reality after a suggestion from professors. (Emily Briones • The Student Life)

With the ever-increasing demand for data science and computer science, Pomona College professors have been working for more than four years to create a data science minor. Although there is no timetable for finalizing the proposal, students and alumni again expressed support for adding the minor.

About a half-dozen professors — including mathematics and statistics professor Joe Hardin and assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience Shannon Burns — belong to an ad hoc committee at Pomona that is developing the minor proposal. The commission, which is more than four years old, has members from various departments, according to Hardin.

At Pomona, the data science minor will consist of a series of courses from classes that already exist, according to Burns. Based on Office of Consortium Academic Cooperation Data Science Initiative, a hypothetical course sequence would include introductory computer science (CS) courses, statistics, data science ethics and linear algebra courses, Hardin said.

The minor will also require students to complete an interdisciplinary project involving data science, such as determining how ethical decisions are made with quantitative data or investigating the ethics of AI-generated art.

The proposal comes from the Office of Consortial Academic Cooperation (OCAC), whose mission is “to develop and maintain effective and enduring interscholastic academic collaboration among the Claremont Colleges,” as well as at the Keck Graduate Institute and Claremont Graduate University.

Since its inception, OCAC has started a Justice Education Initiativea Faculty Mentoring and Collaborative Research Initiative and on Data Science Initiative.

The Curriculum Committeethe voting body that decides whether to accept the proposal consists of Pomona’s dean, the associate dean, the secretary, six faculty members, and three students elected by Pomona’s student leadership.

The professors working on the proposal have spoken with a variety of collaborators, including faculty, the curriculum committee and deans.

The movement to increase data science resources in the 5Cs mirrors trends across the country increasing the number of undergraduate data science programs and a booming demand for data science skills in multiple sectors including education.

5C computer science and data science programs started to expand around 2018. In 2020, Scripps College introduced a data science secondary, with a minor in computer science debuts this fall.

Hardin said some conceptualize data science as an interdisciplinary field that is a Venn diagram of computer science, math and statistics — all essential to navigating what comes after college courses.

“In the 21st century, the way you interact with society — the way systems and society impact you — involves data in some way,” Burns said. “Data is like a way of inquiry, of communication. It feels very natural to fit it into our liberal arts mission. We know how to read really well, write really well and talk to each other, so we need to know how to use and think about data really well.”

Hardin added that the minor will talk about how a data science program can give students more than just a set of technical skills.

“It’s not just about, ‘Does a class teach me the skills I need to get a job doing X, Y, Z in data?'” Hardin said. “In data science, we help students understand that it’s a holistic way of thinking, and we need to be educated on how to use data to answer questions and think about the world around us.”

Economics and a CS major Rishnav Thadani PO ’25 said if he could, he would have minored in data science instead of majoring in computer science is difficult to implement and requires a “huge time commitment”.

He added that since the number of faculty in the CS department is relatively less than that of other departments, it is difficult to get into the classes.

Thadani also believes that data science is “a bit more applicable” than CS for some students, especially those interested in working in finance or politics.

Burns and Hardin said the biggest source of pressure to add a data science minor came from the college’s commitment to liberal arts. Burns reiterated that the purpose of the minor is not “to teach people skills to get a lot of money when they graduate.”

At the same time, Verrels Eugeneo PO ’25 noted that data science opens up more job opportunities for students.

Alumni from various fields expressed the need to understand data to effectively communicate and persuade people, according to Burns.

She also noted how several alumni felt as though they had to invest in an expensive graduate program to get a foundation in data, rather than simply acquiring skills while at Pomona.

“A lot of alumni spoke, those who came to evaluate the data [to us] about how the way [data science impacts life in lots of avenues. [They said] it was kind of a tortuous process and they wish they had been exposed to it early,” Burns said.

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