Over the past three years the university has taken steps to implement and expand programs in response to student demands. In particular, Tufts plans to implement a new major in data science, according to Dean of the School of Engineering Jianmin Qu, and is adding resources to the Community Health (CH) major.
Qu explained that though data science is not currently offered, the School of Engineering hopes to offer it as a new undergraduate major next fall.
This weekend, the Board of Trustees will vote on whether to approve the major, according to Professor of Computer Science Lenore Cowen.
Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Shafiqul Islam said data science is increasing in popularity in colleges and universities across the country.
“Student interest in data science is pretty high. Over the last three or four years, I can tell you at least 40-50 new degree programs have opened up across the country,” Islam said. “Why is this happening? Because there is a sense, in the business community, in the student community, in the professional community, that data will give us something that we have not had before.”
Islam also addressed the need for an education in data science in today’s world.
“Data by itself has no value,” Islam said. “Data can only have value when it can deliver insight for making something for the future.”
Cowen echoed Islam’s sentiments.
“We’re having these big, massive data sets, and a lot of value can be unlocked in figuring out how to analyze those data sets,” Cowen told the Daily in an email.
Cowen said the data science major is meant to reach across a variety of fields. She added that job opportunities for students with a data science major range from work in the financial sector to public health.
Cowen expanded on how the new major would achieve this interdisciplinary nature.
“When we structured the new major in data science, what we did deliberately is we have an area concentration… you get this disciplinary breadth concentration and you take that in a particular department,” she explained.
Islam elaborated on the specific construction of the major.
“For us to develop the data science major, what we need are four types of knowledge and skill bases … formal knowledge … practice techniques … something in policy and decision making … [and how] to communicate findings that you have from data so that your insight gets put into action,” he said.
Cowen said that the collection of data can raise complex moral and ethical issues. To address this concern, she said the university plans to incorporate ethics classes into the major so that students learn how to handle data responsibly.
Like data science, public health is one of the fastest growing majors nationwide, according to a report published by the Association of Schools & Program of Public Health and the de Beaumont Foundation, using National Center for Educational Statistics. The Association of American Colleges and Universities has named public health a “capacious vision of liberal education.”
Allen said that community health is an interdisciplinary major that covers a broad spectrum of fields. It exposes students to contemporary public health issues and solutions, while crossing over into fields such as economics, history, and sociology, she explained. Possible careers include research, work in the government and work with community-based organizations.
Allen referenced research which said market demand for community health has increased. A 2008 study found that 250,000 community health-related jobs would need to be filled for 2020.
“We will also see exponential growth in the elderly population … we need more people with training in community/public health now, more than ever,” she told the Daily in an email.
The CH major has grown by 20-25 percent in enrollment since it was introduced as a primary major in 2015, according to Professor Jennifer Allen, the chair of the CH department. Previously, CH had only been available as a second or third major.
Over the last four years, the department has hired three tenure-track faculty and two lecturers to bolster the ranks of community health professors, she added.
Allen said the department is still in the process of figuring out how to meet increasing student interest. She acknowledged that the recent success has led to some growing pains, commenting that the student-to-faculty ratio is still relatively high (40:1), and that enrollment in most courses spills over into waitlists.
“We feel like we have been so successful that we are now struggling with the effects of our success,” she said.
The challenge now is to expand the major’s faculty and course offerings without putting a financial strain on the university, according to Allen. She said the administration has shown support for the major, and she remains optimistic that the department will be able to find creative solutions to solve this problem.
“A key theme throughout all of our courses is that health is a human right,” Allen said. “Social justice requires that we take immediate and meaningful action to eliminate health disparities. I think that these are values that many [at] Tufts share.”