Qiang Wu, director of MTSU’s new Data Science master’s program and professor, knows from his 10-plus years of teaching and research that data science solves real-world problems.
“I believe data science and artificial intelligence will be key powers 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 while working with student participants during the Data Dive event held June 18, 2022, inside Kirksey Old Main. (MTSU photo by James Cessna)
Having just graduated its first cohort of undergraduate degrees in the spring, MTSU has launched the new master’s program — the first cohort set to start this fall — to teach students advanced data science skills, so that they are even more competitive when entering this burgeoning and innovative industry.
“Our target population with the master’s program is students who have a strong intent to develop a career in data science and are expected to be able to analyze a large amount of data and complete other high-level tasks immediately upon 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 cumulative GPA of 2.75.
“Foundation courses will be available to help students with any skill gaps,” Wu said.
The creation of the master’s program along with the university’s already-existing graduate certificate, doctoral and year-old undergraduate data science programs reflects the growing market demand for data science professionals.
The Bureau of Labor’s employment statistics project an increase in Tennessee’s data science-related employment growth greater than the national average, Wu said. In addition, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission has been working with postsecondary institutions since 2020 to increase the number of computer science and data analytics degrees by 20% over a five-year period.
“With the (added) move-in of high-tech companies such as Amazon and Facebook to the Midstate, I believe 20% does not overestimate the data science career growth in the Nashville area in the next five to 10 years, although a precise figure is not available,” Wu said.
Amazon plans to add 5,000 new corporate and technology jobs with its downtown Nashville office set for completion in 2023. The first of the two-building project is up and running as of fall 2021 with 2,500 employees already hired. The Facebook data center facility in Gallatin, Tennessee, is set to be operational in 2023 and hire 100 new employees.
Plus, Wu added, the industry is not limited to the realm of technology. Any business or organization that collects data needs help from a data scientist to decipher and use it.
Originally from the Shandong Province of China, Wu’s extensive, interdisciplinary background in machine learning, statistics, math, actuarial science and business analytics make him a perfect fit in data science, he said.
He and other faculty from several different departments designed the master’s program with the same interdisciplinary philosophy in mind to provide graduates with relevant, applicable skills for the industry’s variety of opportunities.
“There’s great flexibility in the programming to accommodate each student’s unique needs,” Wu said. “It is interdisciplinary in nature with instructors from both the College of Basic and Applied Sciences and the Jones College of Business. Students can also take elective courses from specialties from several different departments to best fit the industry they are interested in.”