Data science to debut as the UO’s newest major this fall

It’s official: The University of Oregon is preparing the next generation of leaders in data science. With all reviews completed and final approvals in hand, the data science degree program will begin this fall.

Developed by the Presidential Initiative in Data Science, the new undergraduate degree was granted final approval by the UO’s accrediting body, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, in February.

“I am thrilled that the UO is launching a degree in data science,” said UO President Michael H. Schill. “This approval reflects awareness of the increasingly central role of data science in higher education and society, its impact for our state and national economies and its vital usefulness in helping to solve some of the greatest challenges now facing our world. Especially given the role date science is playing globally in tracking and responding to the COVID-19 health emergency, I am proud to note that the UO’s program will place a strong emphasis on building ethical frameworks for working with and learning from big data.”

Data scientists are essential players in many industries, and data science is one of the fastest-growing segments of the economy. A January 2019 report from a top employment website showed open data science jobs in nearly every sector of the economy, with a 344 percent increase since 2013. The demand for data scientists is projected to continue growing at a rate of 29 percent per year. Starting salaries in the field average $115,000.

In keeping with the UO’s foundations in science and the liberal arts, the data science degree program will focus on teaching not only quantitative and computational skills but also data science ethics and communication.

“This is an important emphasis that will help to establish a unique identity for our program,” said Bill Cresko, professor of biology and executive director of the data science initiative. “The world is awash in data, and both the competencies and ethical groundings necessary to extract knowledge from this data are becoming ever more complex. UO students will graduate with the knowledge and skills to take leading roles in the use of data to tackle society’s most pressing issues.”

The program is designed with a “data-science-plus-domain” structure. All students majoring in the subject will learn core quantitative methods such as math, statistics and machine learning and then learn to apply those methods in a chosen field of emphasis. In the first year of the program, these domain areas are biology, geography, linguistics, marketing analytics and accounting analytics.

“The potential for expansion of this program is huge,” Cresko explained. “Joe Sventek, head of the Department of Computer and Information Science and a key leader in the initiative, is working across the university to build more of these domain areas. We’re finding that many areas have already adopted data science approaches in their domains and are eager to be a part of this program.”

Degree requirements and information on applying for the major have been posted. Sample schedules provide an overview of what a student's course load may look like.

Current or prospective students interested in declaring data science as a major should email the program at Data science is a new major and is not yet listed as a choice on the UO application.

—By Jason Stone, University Communications