By David Simpson

Old Dominion University has opened a School of Data Science, seeking to position itself as a national leader in the rapidly growing, cross-disciplinary field.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia approved the University’s application for the new school on Jan. 10.

On Feb. 1, the School of Data Science officially became the central home for coordinating academic programming that until now has been spread across the University's colleges. Teaching and research faculty within the new school will develop interdisciplinary courses and degrees and conduct state-of-the-art research.

“Data is a necessity in the modern workplace,” said President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D. “As a forward-focused university, Old Dominion is committed to training our students to fill this need as data applications continue to transform our lives and our society. This significant step forward in both teaching and research will position ODU to build upon our substantial expertise and proven success in data science, while also generating increased benefits and greater opportunities throughout the region, the commonwealth and the nation.”

The School of Data Science will occupy space in Monarch Hall on the main campus. Research labs and office space for graduate assistants will be in Kaufman Hall, the Engineering and Computational Sciences Building, and the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center in Suffolk.

The new school also will have a branch in Virginia Beach’s Town Center. Located on the top floor of the Armada Hoffler Tower, the ODU Virginia Beach Institute of Data Science will contain research labs, an innovation space and a training space for simulating cybersecurity incidents. Construction at the site is expected to be finished in August. Other potential branches are in development.

The University’s data science students will take courses on the main campus and at the Virginia Beach institute, as well as online. Besides offering the existing Master of Science in Data Science and Analytics, ODU is seeking state approval for a Bachelor of Science in the subject.

Austin Agho, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said he expects a wide range of disciplines to be involved in the new school, including ones that would be expected – statistics, mathematics, computer science, engineering and business analytics. “But we also anticipate the involvement of other disciplines, such as history, philosophy, sociology, criminal justice, political science, psychology, education and the health sciences,” he said.

Around the world, data science is transforming business, health care, banking, agriculture and many other fields. Data scientists use analytical tools and techniques to extract meaningful insights from digital information. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs in the field will grow 36% from 2021 to 2031, much faster than average for all fields. Median pay in 2021 was $100,910.

The School of Data Science will particularly focus on enhancing research partnerships with federal research laboratories located in the region.

“ODU has a unique opportunity to develop a regionally specific data science emphasis that also can become nationally known, due both to regional employers that require a large number of operational data analytics employees and nearby national labs with research thrust areas that can magnify ODU’s investments in specific data science niches,” said Morris Foster, ODU’s vice president for research.

“The continued engagement of teaching and research faculty, academic units and research centers from all parts of the University will be necessary to execute our institutional strategy,” Foster said.

Research areas relevant to the region include maritime transportation, shipbuilding, strategies to address health disparities, and projects that would be of interest to national research laboratories located in Hampton Roads, said Brian Payne, vice provost for academic affairs.

ODU is seeking an inaugural director for the new school. The University is also working to hire six additional data science scholars who will be housed in departments and research centers across campus. These faculty members will complement current expertise.

Michael Nelson, a professor ODU’s Department of Computer Science, has been named interim director.