Saint Mary’s College: Elevating Careers with Remarkable Framework of Knowledge in Data Science

Bogdan Vajiac

Saint Mary’s College was founded in 1844 by the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Notre Dame, Indiana. These bold women answered the needs of the community and created an institution where women could receive a well-rounded Catholic undergraduate education. The creation of graduate programs, offered to both men and women, was done so in response to the need for quality graduate programs in the areas of autism studies, data science, speech-language pathology, and nursing practice. In turn, the graduates of these programs fill gaps in their respective fields for experienced, well-prepared, forward-thinking professionals.


Data-Centric Curriculum Honing Skills

Saint Mary’s College started developing the masters in Data Science program about 6 years ago which was launched in August of 2015. The program is a Professional Science Master’s (PSM), housed in the Mathematics and Computer Science Department at Saint Mary’s, and as such, the education offered is rooted in fundamentals, while also providing students with professional skills. The primarily online program provides students with the mathematical and computational depth needed to take on complex data challenges facing today’s society and potential issues in the future. Specifically, all students take courses in applied statistics, applied linear algebra, computer programming, data mining, database systems, and data visualization. The electives offered in this program also aid students in developing their skills to become successful practitioners. Courses like project management and communication are designed to produce well-rounded employees ready to advance the field.


Outstanding Leaders Offering Unmatched Analytical Exposure

Starting in 2013, Saint Mary’s College began developing a data science master’s program, using initial funds from the Lilly Endowment. Bogdan Vajiac is the current director of the program, a position previously held by Professor Kristin Kuter. Both the professors have been involved from the beginning, and participated in curriculum planning and in establishing partnerships with local businesses and organizations. Bogdan Vajiac teaches data visualization, which focuses on preprocessing and presenting data in a way that a client can easily use; Professor Kuter is teaching the statistics courses, which focus on understanding what techniques are needed in order to analyze data.


Promoting Data Science Environment

Saint Mary’s has many advantages over other institutes, including its size, location, and mission. The greatest edge of the institution is its relatively small size, which intentionally allows the faculty to provide individualized education to each student. Saint Mary’s location is also an advantage, which may seem surprising given that it is not located on the west coast, but rather in South Bend, IN. However, there is a growing number of tech and data science-related industries that have been popping up in the region just over the last few years. The institute has a wonderful mayor devoted to the field and growing the local economy, as well as a Regional Development Authority for the greater South Bend – Elkhart region that also helps promote growth in the industry. Finally, the mission of Saint Mary’s, with a Catholic tradition, gives the institution an edge for candidates interested in using data science for social good and to make a difference in the world.


Real-World Experience Designed for Students

Students in the Data Science Master’s degree program at Saint Mary’s are required to complete a practicum project. The practicum at Saint Mary’s College is an opportunity for students to directly experience the work of a data scientist or data analytics professional. It consists of project-based learning on a significant and contributory business objective in conjunction with practicing professionals in one of many appropriate industries. Students may complete the practicum by working on a project at the student’s place of employment or by obtaining an internship in the area of data science.


Educating as Per Industry Demands

Most businesses need data experts in decision-making and strategic initiatives. Saint Mary’s is well positioned to empower its graduate students with knowledge that is needed in order to solve complex problems that arise in this field. The institute is focused on practical applications, without losing track of the concepts necessary to develop new methods or tools. It is also on the front edge of promoting women in science; its 4+1 program develops Saint Mary’s undergraduates into successful employees or entrepreneurs.


Eminence Through Recognitions and Collaboration

Since the college launched the program, it has graduated two cohorts of diverse, successful students, and will welcome the fourth cohort of future data scientists in August. The institute organizes the Data Science Hackathon in successful collaboration with a local analytics companies, in which participants compete on building a predictive model from text or visual data. It has been attended by nearly 150 undergraduate and graduate students from schools in Indiana and Illinois. Past winners of the events were offered jobs at a local data analytics firms, and these connections were made during a networking portion of the hackathon.

Saint Mary’s graduates are working to develop data science teams at major state-wide insurance companies and employed as contractors on government funded initiatives to investigate solutions to the opioid crisis, and creating their own consulting firms to provide analytics services to governments and businesses in developing countries. One of the graduates won a Five-Minute Student Project Presentation competition at the National Professional Science Master’s Association’s annual conference in Washington D.C. His victory helped him earn financial support for his future projects and initiatives. Achievements like these make the college proud of its graduates and the work they do!


Crafting a Niche

Since Saint Mary’s is a college, it spent a significant amount of time developing a viable program. The institute has worked hard to discover its niche, given the multitude of similar programs that have appeared in the last few years, and it is working on establishing a brand.


Streaming Trends to Be Inculcated in Education

Bogdan believes data is all around the world, inviting experts to dig in and discover new trends, patterns, and make decisions based upon them. “The rise of artificial intelligence sets the stage for data experts to provide better solutions to common problems of the society. Data driven actions provide better results, so not only do large corporations and industry leaders need the work of data scientists, but more and more small businesses are looking to data scientists to help them make better informed decisions,” he added.

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