Dean’s Blog: The Joys of a Two-year Old

September 18, 2021 was the School of Data Science’s (SDS) second birthday. Although a lot has happened in two years,  I certainly would not call it the “terrible twos.” Far from being characterized by unruly and defiant behavior, we are seeing the beginnings of a rhythm, call it a collective behavior and a shared vision that bodes well for the future. Just as well, since like the first two years of human life, we as a School, were characterized by enormous growth and development. It was, on occasion and if I may call upon my chemistry background, high in entropy. 

To illustrate our growth, consider the following, noting that in 2019 when the School was founded, we had already existed as a Data Science Institute (DSI) since 2013.

20192021
Overall Budget$7.1M$14M
Indirect Revenue from Grants$445K$1.2M
Value of Endowments$90M$170M
Total Gifts$425K$1.6M
Full-time Employees3652
MSDS Online Students 33183
MSDS Residential Students6266
Undergraduate Minor (current)0135
Undergraduate Minor (graduated)016
Alumni (total)265440

* 2019 are actuals for the fiscal year 2020; 2021 are budgeted for fiscal year 2022.

Growth is driven by our new hires. The School of Data Science started the 2021-22 academic year having hired thirteen new team members. Of those, ten are faculty and already beginning to change the dynamic of a small but energized organization. We currently have approximately 52 full-time people with 12 teaching, research and administrative positions yet to be filled this academic year. I fully anticipate that our upward trajectory will continue as we grow and evolve as a School and pioneering leader in the data science community.

The two-year mark has prompted us to pause and revisit our five-year strategic plan, first outlined in 2019. I am delighted to report that many of the items we said would take five years to complete have been done in two, and those that have not yet been fulfilled are outside of our control, such as state approval for new programs and, oh yes, COVID. As dean of the School, I am continually amazed and proud of what the entire team has accomplished these past two years under very difficult circumstances. Their determination, hard work, flexibility, and commitment to the School’s mission is what has driven us forward with such success and grace.

Going forward, there are key pillars/areas that will be instrumental in maintaining the School’s growth and stability: 

  • Sustainability. The above table shows us to have significant growth in our endowment. We must not let this provide a false sense of security, for it is money that is ear-marked for faculty hires and not operational or capital costs.
  • Evaluating our model of data science. How do/should we think of data science and have we constructed our research, education and community programs correctly? What do we need to change and tweek?
  • Team orientation.  How can we maintain that sense of team, shared vision and accomplishment as we grow and more voices join our conversation?
  • International prominence,  What do we need to do to be considered a leader  in data science worldwide?
  • Educational programs.  We are moving towards a full complement of graduate and undergraduate programs. Are they of the highest quality and turning out future data science leaders?
  • Interdisciplinary research. Are we putting our focus towards topics that will make the biggest difference to society?
  • Community.  Are we serving our local and broader communities appropriately?
  • Infrastructure.  Do we have the appropriate infrastructure to support our aspirations?

Surely this is enough to keep us busy for another few years. I hope you will follow along and share in our journey. One thing I know for sure is that we will always have problems to be solved and barriers to be overcome. Yet I have every confidence the School of Data Science is up to the challenges ahead and that our future birthdays will be equal causes for celebration. 

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About Phil Bourne

Stephenson Founding Dean of the School of Data Science and Professor of Data Science & Biomedical Engineering, University of Virginia