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Academics

Data science minor graduates first students

More than 60 graduates of Carolina’s Class of 2022 will accept diplomas this weekend that include the innovative new data science minor introduced in the fall of 2021.

Shara He stands in front of Wilson Library holding her laptop
Carolina senior Shara He shows part of a data analysis group project. She is one of the first students to graduate with a new minor in data science. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

When 6,192 Tar Heels graduate this weekend, 62 will be the first Carolina students to earn a minor in data science from the College of Arts & Sciences. The program launched in the fall of 2021 and is designed to introduce students from diverse academic backgrounds to data science and explore its role in modern society.

After fulfilling the three core requirements — “Data and Computational Thinking,” “Data and Statistical Thinking” and “Data, Culture and Society” — students take two elective courses, choosing from classes in more than 20 departments, including English, linguistics, statistics and operations research, biology, political science and computer science.

“This is a minor designed to invite people from any background to learn and become more comfortable with data science,” said Mariana Olvera-Cravioto, the program chair and a statistics and operations research associate professor. “Whatever department their major is in, data science is applicable and connected in some way.”

The electives cover a wide variety of subjects, including “Data-Driven Journalism,” “Social Vulnerability to Climate Change” and “Archaeological Field Methods,” but the electives all focus on the methods and applications of data science.

“There is a huge demand for people who can do data science at every level,” Olvera-Cravioto said. “I think students know that, which explains the widespread interest in the minor. Data science is used in almost every field, so the minor positions our students to have increasingly important skills that they can use in whatever career they pursue.”

Three graduating seniors who plan to use data science in their post-graduation plans are Shara He, Justin Mauzy and Rajee Ganesan.

He, a computer science and statistics double major, added the data science minor in the fall because it complemented her majors and offered the opportunity to explore data science in fields outside of her majors.

“Early in my time at Carolina, I learned that I really enjoyed telling stories with data and learning how to program models and analyze them,” He said. “When the data science minor became available this fall, I found that it was the perfect fit for me since I knew I wanted to pursue a career in data science after graduation.”

After graduation, He will move to Boston and begin a new role as a data science engineer at the business software company, Oracle. After completing the minor and serving as president of Carolina Analytics and Data Science, He believes she’s ready to apply what she’s learned at Carolina in the workplace.

“We are very much living in a world where there’s an abundance of data,” He said. “We interact with data every day, and data science is a way to help us investigate and understand the data that we’ve been collecting and to offer more valuable insights and new ideas.”

Another senior, Mauzy, will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps after graduating with his business administration and statistics major and data science minor. He hopes to enter a specialty where he can utilize his data science skills.

“I’m hoping to go into a specialty like logistics, communications or intelligence, all of which would definitely provide an avenue to use my data science minor,” Mauzy said. “Data is everywhere, so it’s easy to use these skills in almost any field.”

Mauzy also appreciated the opportunity to explore new courses in fields he never had the chance to study while completing his major.

“It’s been fun to branch out in my senior year and take classes outside of my major,” Mauzy said. “My class schedule has always been filled with business and statistics courses, but with this minor I’ve taken linguistics classes that provide a more culture-based analysis that added variety to my course load.”

Ganesan, a quantitative biology major, said the data science minor helped prepare her to pursue her Ph.D. in biological sciences at Carnegie-Mellon University in the fall.

“I will likely be using data science in my research every day in my program,” said Ganesan. “It’s just so applicable and a such a dynamic tool. Now I have the skill set to do analysis that I never would have learned if I hadn’t started the minor.”

As of May 2022, there are more than 500 undergraduates enrolled in the minor. Olvera-Cravioto says the popularity of the program isn’t surprising, and the success of the first class of graduates exemplifies how the minor connects every field of study at Carolina.

“Our students see how the data science field is growing and they recognize that it can be an interesting career path,” said Olvera-Cravioto. “This program was created so any student can join and take classes that complement their major and what they want for their future.”