The collection, analysis and application of data now permeates nearly every academic discipline, most professions and many aspects of our everyday lives.
That’s why UCLA is launching DataX, a new campuswide initiative that will give UCLA students, research staff and faculty — whatever their scholarly concentration — the tools to incorporate data in their work, both at UCLA and in their careers beyond academia.
The initiative is being backed by an initial three-year, $10 million commitment. One of the first manifestations of that investment will be a campuswide organizational structure called DataX Homeworld.
Through DataX Homeworld, UCLA will hire 18 new faculty members whose appointments will be shared with existing academic departments and will create six interdisciplinary DataX cluster courses on topics of societal or scientific importance that will be accessible to students without extensive technical backgrounds. The campus also will support 18 new interdisciplinary postdoctoral fellowships, as well as graduate student researchers and research working groups.
The programs were announced in a message to the campus from Emily Carter, UCLA’s executive vice chancellor and provost, and Roger Wakimoto, vice chancellor for research and creative activities.
“As a surge in the availability, analysis and application of data continues to alter so many aspects of our lives, the DataX initiative will be essential to securing UCLA’s position as a leading public research university and to empowering our students with the skills they need to thrive within a data-driven society — while also promoting understanding of the profound social and ethical implications of this trend,” they wrote.
DataX will have three overarching areas of focus: fundamental data science, applications, and social and ethical implications.
Mark Green, a UCLA distinguished research professor of mathematics who co-led the planning for DataX, said the effort will build upon the campus’s considerable strengths in the field.
“We have a lot of amazing things going on at UCLA in this general area,” he said. “Deepening the connections between existing strengths can energize people to form larger collaborations. And DataX will help transform education here. There are a lot of opportunities in the workplace for people with knowledge about data and data science, so there’s a huge need to expand our course offerings and create new majors and minors for our students.”
To that end, DataX will introduce a group of cluster courses, built on UCLA’s existing model of year-long sequences of team-taught classes.
“These classes will build community across cohorts of students, and build their skills in general education requirements,” said Jacob Foster, an associate professor of sociology and the other co-lead of the planning. “The idea behind the courses will be to provide students an enticing entrée to the DataX space as soon as they arrive on campus — especially students who might not come to campus thinking that this is what they want to do.
“We want to offer a path to data skills where the doorway doesn’t say ‘data science;’ it says ‘climate and sustainability’ or ‘health care and social medicine’ or ‘social justice.’ We’re not hiding the fact that we’re introducing ideas about data, both the critical side and the technical side,” he said. “We want to make sure students come out of these courses with the skills they need and a new enthusiasm and passion for data and data science. We just want to draw them in by emphasizing their existing passions, and showing them how valuable data skills can be for pursuing those passions.”
Equity and diversity considerations will play a critical role in DataX — both in terms of creating opportunities for students from all backgrounds, no matter their prior data experience, and by extending the initiative to academic fields in which there are new opportunities for data science.
For example, the program will provide funding to acquire datasets, which can be very expensive, particularly for research and teaching that would benefit from greater access to such resources.
“We decided early on that it was important, for example, to acquire datasets that support the work of people who are doing data-intensive research in areas like racial equity and social justice,” Green said.
In planning the initiative, Green and Foster solicited input throughout the past 18 months from more than 100 individual faculty members, as well as through the Academic Senate’s council on research and the Deans Council, among other parties. The Academic Senate will continue to be consulted as the initiative rolls out in the coming months. Foster said a key to the planning was ensuring that DataX would align with existing initiatives including Rising to the Challenge and UCLA’s intention to become a designated Hispanic-Serving Institution by 2025.