UH Hilo developing new data science program

The new program will help produce a generation of big data scientists.

By Jamie Josephson.
This story is part of a series on curriculum and projects at UH Hilo focusing on sustainability issues.

Waterfall and reservoir
The ‘Ike Wai Project was established as a UH Systemwide water sustainability research project funded by the National Science Foundation. The funds will support the development of a data science program at UH Hilo.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is in the process of creating a brand new data science program. The program, which will start as a certificate program, is expected to commence in the fall semester of 2018, with hopes of eventually forming into a baccalaureate degree program.

Data science is a branch of science that deals with studying and analyzing sets of data through statistical measures and applying the process into a variety of fields of study. It is a versatile field because almost every branch of science collects loads of data—big data—and has processes for analyzing all of this information. The data science certificate would be open to all students, regardless of major or background.

Travis Mandel

This summer, UH Hilo kicked off the program by hiring two new professors. Travis Mandel, assistant professor of computer science, and Grady Weyenberg, assistant professor of mathematics, are collaborating with existing faculty to design new classes for the program. They will be joined in the near future by the others—experts in the natural and social sciences.

When the certificate is established, there will be a total of six courses required. Students will take four new data science classes listed under computer science and mathematics and two additional courses will come from a list of applicable classes in the students’ current majors.

“Data science is such an in-demand field it will really help UH Hilo stand out from the crowd,” says Mandel. “I am particularly excited about the numerous opportunities to involve undergraduates in meaningful research, both during the school year as scholars and during our larger bridge program during the summer.”

Mandel was hired to help lead the development of the ‘Ike Wai data science program at UH Hilo, including both teaching and research. He received his bachelor degree in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University. Following that, he received his master degree and doctor of philosophy from the University of Washington.

Grady Weyenberg
Grady Weyenberg

This program is funded through the National Science Foundation, as a part of the ‘Ike Wai Project. ‘Ike Wai was established as a UH Systemwide water sustainability research project. The funds allocated to UH Hilo are being used to form the data science program with the hope that data analysis will prove successful to better understand the groundwater systems in place on Hawai‘i Island.

Weyenberg says it is important for students to be involved in this program.

“We are not currently well-informed on how water flows through the system and where it comes from,” Weyenberg says. The processes of data analysis used by the students may provide a better understanding of water sustainability issues, specifically in West Hawai‘i.

Weyenberg was hired in August as an assistant professor of mathematics at UH Hilo. He was raised in Hilo and graduated from Waiakea High School. He went on to obtain bachelor of science degrees in physics and mathematics from the University of Arizona-Tucson. In Arizona he taught high school math for a few years before going to the University of Kentucky-Lexington where he received a master of science in statistics and doctor of philosophy in statistics. Most recently, he was working in Bristol, England, with a project concerning integrative epidemiology.

Weyenberg decided to apply for the new position and move back to Hilo to work on this program.

“It’s not very often an opportunity comes along to be on the ground floor of a new program,” he explains. “I get the opportunity to design curriculum from the ground-up and shape this program in a way that will be beneficial to students.”

Currently, Weyenberg is teaching beginning math courses at the university while working on developing the Ike Wai program.

Also being developed is the ‘Ike Wai Graduate Scholarship program, which has received quite a few applications from interested students.

Members of faculty across many branches of science are also excited for the debut of this new data science program.

“Data science is a new buzzword within the past few years that has come about with the explosion of the internet and social media,” says Weyenberg. “Right now there are huge amounts of information being collected but not studied. There are not enough people with the right background in data science so there is an infinite need for trained scientists in this field.”

Weyenberg recommends this program to any science majors planning on going to graduate school.

“The processes learned in these classes will be skills that are used very often in most graduate programs,” he says. “Students that go through this certificate program will have a leg up and experience that will benefit them in their future schooling.”

This story was updated on Nov.1 to add information and quotation from Travis Mandell.


About the author of this story: Jamie Josephson (senior, English) is a public information intern in the Office of the Chancellor.

-UH Hilo Stories

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