Illustration by Maya Winshell

Data science, cybersecurity will debut at LC

Starting next year, Lewis & Clark will begin offering a data science minor and a concentration in cybersecurity for computer science majors. 

Covering topics including computer science, statistics and the use of computers in social sciences, the data science minor will be the first new minor created at LC since the college added minors in entrepreneurship and health studies last year, which followed the creation of a Middle Eastern and North African studies minor in 2017. 

According to Associate Professor of Political Science and Department Chair Ellen Seljan, who spearheaded the implementation of the minor, discussions around starting a data science program have been going on for years.

“It’s a growing field,” Seljan said. “I think that the faculty saw we’re really missing out on an opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration, because we have so many quantitatively focused faculty across so many departments here on campus.” 

Seljan emphasized that data science is more than just statistics. 

“Getting data science right requires a ton of critical thinking and thinking outside the box,” she said. 

The information sheet Seljan sent out about the minor describes data science as “an interdisciplinary field of study dedicated to quantitative problem solving,” and suggests connecting the data science minor with a major in computer science, political science, biology, economics or even psychology. 

Faculty members from the humanities are involved, as well: One of the minor’s advisors is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Department Chair Joel Martinez, who Seljan says was one of the most vocal supporters of the data science minor.

The decision to add the minor was also motivated by the number of other schools, including liberal arts colleges like LC, that have recently created data science programs or similar curricula.

The school’s Strategic Enrollment Management Initiative (SEMI) helped create the minor. SEMI is a faculty-led initiative aimed at stabilizing LC’s enrollment and competitiveness with other schools through the addition of new programs. Many recent decisions at LC have been led by SEMI, including the entrepreneurship minor. In addition to the data science minor, they are working on the creation of a public health major in response to COVID-19 and similar programs started by other schools.

Associate Professor of English Rachel Cole, the leader of SEMI, described SEMI as a data-informed process, specifying that this means it is more than just data-driven. Cole said that the initiatives proposed by SEMI are not only intended to boost enrollment, but are also “true to our mission, our campus culture, and our strengths.”

In the long term, Seljan has bigger plans. She expects that the data science minor will be popular and plans to eventually make it into a major. This would be a larger undertaking, requiring another vote from the existing faculty members and hiring a new computer science professor. 

Seljan plans to integrate the data sciences minor with a series of related activities. She will hold a hackathon where students work together to solve data problems over the course of a few days and invite speakers on topics related to data. Seljan eventually expects to create an internship program in collaboration with the Career Center for students to get hands-on experience in the world of data and computer science.

The original plan devised by SEMI had a cybersecurity focus included within the data sciences minor, but the data science and cybersecurity programs were split during negotiations. Now, cybersecurity will be a concentration available to students doing computer science majors or minors, with one dedicated class taught by Professor of Computer Science Jens Mache.

Data science is a growing field with numerous potential applications. Looking at enrollment statistics from data-related programs recently implemented at similar colleges, Seljan projects that the data science minor will offer many LC students a conduit to careers in high tech.

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