Champlain’s Data Science Program Director is not only training the next generation of data scientists, she’s making data science and machine learning more accessible through a series of pioneering initiatives.
If we had a crystal ball to see a few years into the future, what technology will be as important as the internet is today or the printing press was half a millennium ago?
Our bet is on data science. Wrangling, harnessing, and making sense of big data will be crucial to our future. Data science may help us solve some of the 21st century’s largest challenges, like eradicating disease, securing the cybersphere, and making energy more efficient. Even today, one would be hard pressed to find an industry or academic discipline unaffected by data science. Machine learning, the technology that harnesses big data, is at work when we stream music on Spotify, watch shows on Netflix, or ask Alexa for our latest notifications.
“There’s so much potential in applying machine learning to solving big problems,” says Jeff Dean, Senior Fellow and Chief of AI at Google. “But there’s a fairly limited set of people who have the skills and expertise to really do this work effectively.”
Dr. Narine Hall, Champlain’s Data Science Program Director, is not only training the next generation of data scientists, she’s making data science and machine learning more accessible through a series of pioneering initiatives. Beginning this fall, all first-year students at Champlain will learn data science as part of a course Hall is developing with Champlain’s Core faculty. No other college in the country teaches data science (which some might argue is as foundational as algebra and geometry) as part of a student’s general education.
“The course will give students the tools and confidence they need to analyze data and integrate machine learning into their fields of study,” says Hall. “We hope students realize how accessible data can be. We want to inspire them to be truly interdisciplinary thinkers who can apply data science and machine learning in their future careers.”
We hope students realize how accessible data can be. We want to inspire them to be truly interdisciplinary thinkers who can apply data science and machine learning in their future careers.Dr. Narine Hall
Hall’s democratization of data science and machine learning is catching the attention of big players in the industry, like Google and Coursera. Just this month, Google awarded Hall a large grant to continue developing open source courses with the promise she will make them available to other educators. The grant was announced by Josh Gordon, a Developer Advocate at Google whose YouTube videos on machine learning rack up millions of views.
Hall will be working directly with Gordon and Laurence Moroney, Lead Artificial Intelligence Developer Relations at Google, to scale her course content for online viewers. Moroney and Gordon are both known for making puzzling concepts easy to understand. “I have been studying Deep Learning for the last three weeks or so and this guy explained it like in 20 minutes,” says a viewer on YouTube about Moroney’s remarkably concise video on machine learning.
Four years ago, Hall led the effort to launch Champlain’s new undergraduate major in Data Science. “At the time, it seemed impossible,” says Hall. “Data science had been reserved for master’s and doctoral students, and we were one of the first schools to offer it to undergraduates.” The program has been a resounding success with both students and industry partners alike.
Data science had been reserved for master’s and doctoral students, and we were one of the first schools to offer it to undergraduates.Dr. Narine Hall
Throughout her time at Champlain, Hall has continued to advise local startups and remains connected to the data science scene. She created Champlain’s Data Science Hub, a center where students work with mentors and clients from industry partners, like Faraday, on real-world projects and datasets, allowing them to hone their skills.
Hall grounds her curriculum in experiential learning and project-based exercises. “Connecting the course material with students’ own interests and passions has been a huge driver of success,” says Hall. “Some students want to focus on data’s value to business while others care deeply about how it can make a social impact,” she says. This approach allows Hall to meet students where they’re at. It also opens up this predominantly male field to a more diverse set of students. “Champlain has seen more women from other majors take data science courses because they want to study things like neighborhood effects on poverty,” says Hall.
As Hall developed her machine learning curriculum, she posted ideas about using Google Cloud and Tensor Flow (an open source platform) in an online forum created for faculty to engage with Google Developers. Within a matter of hours, 50 faculty members from different universities reached out to ask to join a group Hall was creating to discuss the topic. Some wanted to collaborate as she created course materials, others wanted to access the resources she developed. Hall’s new Google group, called ML4ALL, boasts 87 members, and includes Laurie White, a Senior Developer Advocate at Google, who focuses on helping higher education use the cloud.
John Trusheim, a senior who will be one of the first students to graduate from Champlain’s Data Science program, didn’t start out as a data analyst. He began in Game Programming, and wants to apply data science to the game industry. “In gaming, a data analyst can do many things,” says Trusheim. “They can look at player data to balance a game and see what might need tweaks. Or they can work on the marketing team to determine target markets and audiences.” Trusheim says he feels prepared to graduate. He looked at different master’s programs and believes the work he’s done as an undergraduate at Champlain covers much of the same ground.
Hall says the most powerful applications of data science and machine learning will be the ones that take this essential knowledge and apply it across disciplines. Thanks to the groundbreaking work of this remarkable Data Science Program Director, Champlain students will graduate knowing how to use these powerful tools in the workforce, and will lead the ML4ALL movement.