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Big Data Becomes Big Initiative at Local Campuses

Orange County colleges and universities are launching and expanding programs in big data to train students to capture and analyze the reams of information that’s become available in an age when data storage capacity has ballooned.

• University of California-Irvine began offering a bachelor’s degree in data science this fall.

• California State University-Fullerton will receive $1 million over five years to fund research in the discipline.

• Concordia University in Irvine in the spring will add a business data analytics emphasis to its bachelor of arts in business program.

• Pepperdine University’s Irvine graduate campus will start offering a master’s of science in applied analytics next fall.

The business school at Chapman University in Orange said it plans to expand efforts in the field but hasn’t settled on the form—research, curriculum or other elements. Meanwhile the school’s computational and data sciences program has developed courses to offer at Chapman’s new pharmacy school in Irvine.

Padhraic Smyth, a computer science professor at UCI and director of the Data Science Initiative, which began in July 2014, said the new data-science major at UC-Irvine is the only one in the UC system.

“We’re training students to work on problems related to large data sets,” he said.

The initiative is a series of on-campus interdisciplinary conferences and one of eight intramural efforts in various disciplines. UCI Irvine Extension, which offers continuing education to working professionals, has also added courses, he said, including a certificate in data science that’s about a year old.

“Naturally, I’m a bit biased,” he said, “But … we are doing more in the data science/big data area than any other leading university in Southern California.”

Big Changes

Big data refers to “the proliferation of large and complex amounts of data [from] various sources,” said Archana J. McEligot, a CSUF professor of health science who will lead the grant work for the school.

The planning material on Concordia’s new bachelor’s emphasis said the work moves data “from traditionally unconnected sources into powerful and predictive information that allows businesses to make better decisions.”

UCI’s Smyth said data has grown because capturing it with sensors and storing it in databases, respectively, has gotten cheaper and simpler.

“A business produces millions of data records—customer contacts, online browsing at its website, operational data on its work,” Smyth said, and all of that is “sitting in databases.”

University course work in math and computer science existed before this, he pointed out, but now “you need to know about algorithms, databases, and software,” among other areas, in order to manage and create value from abundant data.

He said “data science” is “the term in academia that covers the full lifecycle of data: getting it, putting it into databases, using it, and even thinking about policymaking and privacy.”


Schools still teach big-data courses from their computer science departments, but more and more business schools are starting separate programs, which typically focus on one or more of three areas of training:

• finding, storing, and organizing data—number-crunching;

• making the data easy for managers and top executives to use; and

• communicating the resulting information inside and outside the company.

Schools say the first area is the technical work; the second brings big-data into a science; and the third connects data to actually selling products or services to a customer.

The skills are valuable.

A 2014 Wall Street Journal article cited by Pepperdine showed data scientists and analytics professionals earn $65,000 to $80,000 annually with three years of experience or less, to $115,000 to $150,000 for those with more than nine years in the field—excluding management roles.

Concordia, citing Stamford, Conn.-based technology research company Gartner Inc., said the big-data work force will be 4.4 million people by the end of this year.

UCI’s work in big data—the new bachelor’s, the on-campus seminars, and a continuing education certificate—all began in the past 15 months.

Smyth said faculty had been mulling the 1-year-old bachelor’s program for a few years, “wrote it up last summer,” and held the first class on Sept. 24. He said it was a relatively quick approval process.

“If you do a graduate degree, you have to go the UC [administrative] level, [which] can take two years,” he said. “An undergraduate program can be done internally” at an individual campus, which speeds approvals.

“Still, it was streamlined,” he said. “UCI prides itself on being responsive [to changes in business] and starting new ideas quickly, so we were pretty motivated to get it approved and ready for this fall.”

Smyth said the degree also covers “the human side of data”—ethics and privacy, for instance—in addition to technical training.

He said he expects 30 to 40 students a year to enter the data science major.

“Pretty much any company” needs data analysis, he said.

Companies and industries recently tapping the trend have included Netflix using customer-viewing data to learn how shows become popular and a tourism marketing group justifying a budget increase by using data analysis as evidence.

“It’s hard to think of a business that doesn’t have a lot of information coming into it,” Smyth said. “The question is, ‘How can I use this information to improve the company?’”

He said the department is considering adding a graduate degree and that other departments are adding courses as elective options.

“The business school is looking at [adding] a specialization in data science.”

$1 Million

CSUF’s $1 million from the National Institutes of Health is for developing student researchers and big-data projects in neuroscience, genomics, and epigenetics.

“Training a workforce to understand, manage, explore and analyze these data … is critical,” McEligot said.

She said 18 students will be chosen on a rolling basis to study for two years with CSUF professors.

“It’s a training grant to provide research-based experience to students and faculty.”

Data analysis will also be added to individual courses.

A separate recent development at the school involves Vineet Shah, a student majoring in information systems and decision sciences, who will present a big-data research project at a business analytics competition in Anaheim next week sponsored by El Segundo-based Teradata Corp.

Shah will present his research on whether more than 1 million tweets about new video games on the games’ launch days affected the stock prices of the games’ makers.

Analysis Is Key

Concordia’s new business bachelor’s emphasis focuses strictly on the technology part of big-data education, said resident professor Andrew Grimalda, who led the development of the courses.

“We really want to develop the analyst,” he said, “though the analyst could very well be in the marketing department.”

The focus of the courses is “the nuts and bolts” of assumptions and activities that underlie data analysis, he said, adding that “analysis comes first.”

Concordia offered one new course to MBA students this past summer in order to test its strength and popularity.

“It was a full class, which is uncommon for a brand-new course,” Grimalda said. “There is a huge demand for this education,” he said, citing a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study that showed a 10-fold increase in universities offering big-data courses between 2007 and 2013.

Data Masters

Students at Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business and Management graduate campus in Irvine have been able to emphasize data analysis for three years in their MBA programs, the school said.

The emphasis is poised to grow into a full-fledged master’s degree in applied analytics, and Bob McQuaid, director of the degree, is recruiting 25 to 30 students for it.

“The new program is high-quality and targeted,” he said.

Plans for the master’s degree call for it to cover the business applications of big data, in addition to the technical side.

McQuaid described an “interlocking cloverleaf” as a meeting point for number crunching, analyzing data, and communicating the information to others.

A program designed for only one area “produces people who don’t have business skills, or who don’t know how to keep the systems running,” he said.

“The center of that is the perfect, ‘I know about all three’ spot,” he said.

“The interesting dilemma is who communicates between (and among) those three spaces.”

To Come

The Argyros School of Business and Economics at Chapman is working on changes that could include new big-data courses or research.

“We are still a few months away from faculty voting on programmatic changes,” said Reggie Gilyard, dean of the business school.

Chapman said one option could include projects that integrate with the economic research and forecasting the school already does.

Its Department of Computational and Data Sciences has also developed courses, said Hesham El-Askary, an associate professor and director of the department’s graduate programs.

Classes “attack real-life problems that need computation,” he said. “It’s research-oriented and discipline-focused.

Brandman University in Irvine, which is part of the Chapman system, is including a course in data analytics in a new bachelor’s degree in communications and media next fall. ”

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