Column by Chancellor Irwin: New data science program prepares students for workforce

In high demand: Graduates from UH Hilo’s new data science baccalaureate degree program, with an in-depth skillset in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and statistics.

Happy New Year!

Bonnie Irwin pictured.
Bonnie D. Irwin

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo starts off the new year with an exciting baccalaureate degree to announce. The data science program, ready to start in the fall, is designed for workforce preparation, formulated to address local and state needs in a data-driven knowledge economy.

We are proud to say that the new program is the first data science major in the UH System. Data science deals with studying and analyzing sets of data through statistical measures that can be applied to many different fields of study. It is considered an interdisciplinary endeavor because almost every branch of science collects loads of data—big data—and each field needs experts for analyzing the mass amounts of information.

We started building our data science program in 2017 with a certificate in data science, launched in fall of 2018, where all students interested in gaining basic training are welcome regardless of major or background. Students hone their data analysis skills by supporting the university’s active research faculty whose projects generate large amounts of data, such as investigations into coral reef health and studies on the impacts of climate change for our island, state, and region.

The new bachelor’s degree program in data science is an interdisciplinary degree, meaning it interfaces with other majors, where students can build an in-depth skillset in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and statistics. Students will choose one of four tracks to specialize further: astronomy, business, statistics, or computational.

Faculty teaching the skills of data science come from a wide range of programs involved in various research projects, much of it with great local impact.

Core faculty in the program are:

Associate Professor of Computer Science Travis Mandel, who is the data science program coordinator, researches how artificial intelligence systems can best assist human scientists with their work. In research supported by the National Science Foundation, students explore problems in human-in-the-loop artificial intelligence and its connections with natural science.

Associate Professor of Marine Science John Burns, a research scientist studying coral health and coral reef ecosystems, is founder and director of the Multiscale Environmental Graphical Analysis Laboratory or MEGA Lab based at UH Hilo, where students and scientists from UH Hilo and around the world collaboratively collect and transform reef data into 3D images with the newest analytical technologies.

Associate Professor of Mathematics Grady Weyenberg, whose research focuses on statistical techniques to assist researchers and scientists in various fields, ties together natural science, computer science, and mathematics. For example, on the collaborative marine science projects, his students learn how to conduct coral surveys, troubleshoot computer science problems involved in building the 3D models from photographs, and conduct math modeling and computation that goes into more advanced statistical models.

Assistant Professor of Data Science and Business Administration Sukhwa Hong conducts research focused on text mining, natural language processing, and social media analytics. Last summer, his students worked with artificial intelligence and large language models to analyze big data and extract key insights to be communicated to the public.

Professor of Geography and Environmental Science Ryan Perroy, who founded and runs UH Hilo’s Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization laboratory and is a research collaborator with the data science program, trains his students in machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify objects of interest such as invasive species in our native forests. The data that he and his students have collected using innovative drone and mapping technology have greatly advanced knowledge about the spread of Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death, a devastating fungal disease killing off large areas of native forest on Hawai‘i Island.

Graduates from UH Hilo’s new data science baccalaureate degree program will be in high demand. Their work will help build a new data-driven knowledge economy through their computer and data science skills already honed through multiple undergraduate research activities while at UH Hilo.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

Related story

UH Hilo computer scientist Travis Mandel and his students explore artificial intelligence and natural science

Share this story