MTSU Launches Master’s in Data Science Program to Prepare Students for Advanced Positions in Growing Industry

Qiang Wu, director of the new MTSU Master’s Program in Data Science and professor, knows from more than 10 years of teaching and research that data science solves real-world problems.

“I believe that data science and artificial intelligence will be key forces to develop technology and change the world,” Wu said.

Middle Tennessee State University professor Qiang Wu, director of the university’s new Data Science master’s program, smiles as he works with student participants during the Data Dive event held June 18, 2022 at Kirksey Old Main. (MTSU photo by James Cessna)

Having just graduated its first batch of bachelor’s degrees in the spring, MTSU is launching the new master’s program — the first batch set to begin this fall — to teach students advanced skills in data science so they are more more competitive when entering this booming and innovative industry.

“Our target population with the master’s program is students who have a strong intention to develop a career in data science and are expected to be able to analyze a large amount of data and perform other high-level tasks immediately after graduation,” Wu said.

Prospective students are not required to hold a data science-related degree to qualify: The minimum admission requirement is a bachelor’s degree and a cumulative GPA of 2.75.

“Core courses will be available to help students with skill gaps,” Wu said.

The creation of the master’s program alongside the university’s already existing graduate certificate, doctoral and one-year bachelor’s programs in data science reflects the growing market demand for data science professionals.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects data science job growth in Tennessee to be higher than the national average, Wu said. In addition, the Tennessee Commission on Higher Education is working with institutions of higher education starting in 2020 to increase the number of degrees in computer science and data analytics by 20% over a five-year period.

“With the (added) entry of high-tech companies like Amazon and Facebook into the Midstate, I believe 20% is not an overestimate of data science career growth in the Nashville area over the next five to 10 years, although an exact number is not available.” , Wu said.

Amazon plans to add 5,000 new corporate and technology jobs with its downtown Nashville office due for completion in 2023. The first of the two-building project is up and running by fall 2021 with 2,500 employees already hired. Facebook’s data center in Gallatin, Tennessee, is slated to open in 2023 and hire 100 new employees.

Plus, Wu added, the industry isn’t limited to technology. Any business or organization that collects data needs the help of a data scientist to decipher and use it.

Originally from China’s Shandong province, Wu’s rich, interdisciplinary background in machine learning, statistics, mathematics, actuarial science and business analytics makes him a perfect fit for data science, he said.

He and other faculty from several different departments designed the master’s program with the same interdisciplinary philosophy to provide graduates with relevant, applicable skills for a variety of industry opportunities.

“There is a lot of flexibility in programming to accommodate the unique needs of each student,” Wu said. “It is interdisciplinary in nature with instructors from both College of Basic and Applied Sciences and Jones College of Business. Students can also take elective courses from majors from several different departments to best fit the industry they are interested in.”

Although spots in this fall’s inaugural cohort are currently full, Wu said the faculty is closely monitoring enrollment and encouraged students to apply by the July 31 deadline to be waitlisted, or to apply by the Dec. 31 deadline for admission in spring 2023

Endless potential

David Jean, one of 20 students in the first cohort of the master’s program, is interested in data science because of its endless potential.

MTSU-Students-of-Data-Science-Masters Program
Middle Tennessee State University professor Chiang Wu, center, director of the university’s new master’s program in Data Science, works with students, from left, Lindsay Rogerson, Curtis Corazao, Wu, Afsane Kaden and Ray Hill during the Data Dive event. held on 18 June 2022 inside Kirksey Old Main. (MTSU photo by James Cessna)

“Society is producing data at an exponential rate, and having to be able to work with it seems like a really invaluable skill!” Jean said.

A native of Franklin, Tennessee, Jean graduated with a bachelor’s degree in data science from MTSU this spring and wanted to continue on to the master’s program because she really liked the students and faculty.

“Students are always pushing each other to be the best and strive for more, while faculty are always willing to genuinely engage and offer advice,” he said.

Jean said that he is grateful to the Faculty of Data Science for providing him with so many opportunities and a great experience so far.

Lisa Greenassociate professor of mathematics and director of the undergraduate program, helped Jean found the Data Science Club. Josh Phillipsassociate professor of computer science hosted the 2022 hackathon, which Jean won, Ryan Otter, Data Science Institute director, offered Jean an internship, and Wu recently brought Jean on as a graduate assistant.

“The teachers were always there for me in and out of the classroom,” he said.

To learn more about the Data Science Master’s program, visit the website here

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