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January 17, 2022

CT colleges launch data science programs as need for analytics workers skyrockets

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER UConn Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Carl Lejuez.

The need for data scientists has never been greater both in the U.S. and Connecticut, which is home to global insurance, IT and financial services companies.

In response, Connecticut colleges are launching data science programs to train a new generation of analytics workers.

The University of Connecticut’s board of trustees recently approved a new data science master’s degree program that will kickoff in the fall of 2022; Quinnipiac University began offering a data science bachelor’s degree this past fall; and the University of Hartford launched its an undergraduate data science degree in the fall of 2021.

College leaders say they are collaborating with the private sector and industry experts to develop curriculums that combine the use of statistics, algorithms and technology — skill sets desired by a broad range of companies as mining large amounts of data to improve business operations and predictive analytics becomes the norm.

For example, Quinnipiac University worked closely with insurers Travelers Cos. and Liberty Mutual before rolling out its new data science program this past fall, according to program director Jill Shahverdian.

“Those businesses encouraged the interdisciplinary approach; students can apply what they are learning to different fields,” Shahverdian said.

Currently, there are six students in Quinnipiac’s 36-credit data science program, with that number expected to grow by 20 students annually for at least the next five years, Shahverdian said. The Hamden-based private college expects to have more than 100 data science students by 2026.

Courses taught range from calculus, linear algebra and applied statistics to data mining, machine learning and database systems.

“There is a need for people who have those skill sets,” Shahverdian said. “People in the past often only had a background in statistics or computer programming. You either majored in one or the other. Now, we offer courses in both and you have a chance to use both fields. It’s such a new industry and it’s like we are on the cutting edge of something special here.”

Making sense of data

There are currently thousands of open data science jobs across the country, according to job-search website, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be a 30% increase in math and statistics positions over the next decade.

Job website Glassdoor recently listed more than 200 data analytics positions available just in Connecticut.

The industry pays well, too. The average salary for data scientists in Connecticut is about $101,424 annually, according to Indeed.

Tom Rechen, a Hartford partner with law firm McCarter & English who specializes in intellectual property and business litigation, said his clients desperately need people with data science expertise.

He referred to a 2018 Forbes article that said 90% of the data available in the world at that time had been created in the prior two years.

“We are creating data at such an astounding rate … and we need people who can analyze it, collect it, understand it, and make decisions based on it,” Rechen said.

Rechen said one of the industries with the biggest need for data science experts is insurance, which deals with troves of data points related to claims, investment portfolios and other areas.

“You need a data science person to design the software, the algorithms, that allow for insurance companies, or any company, to evaluate and measure their holdings … and report it on a seconds notice,” he said.

UConn Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Carl Lejuez said the university expects significant demand for its new 30-credit data science program. The school hopes to have 425 in-person and online students enrolled by the fall of 2026.

Lejuez said UConn decided to move forward with the program following extensive market research of state, regional and national labor market and workforce development needs.

The program will have an interdisciplinary approach with courses in five different colleges, including the schools of business, engineering and liberal arts and sciences, which will make it unique, he said.

The data science field is extremely competitive and attracting top students, Lejuez said.

“Five years from now, I see our program as being one of the best nationally and also attractive internationally,” Lejuez said.

Insurers in need

College leaders say partnerships with private sector companies are in the works and internship opportunities with local employers will be key to keeping graduates in Connecticut.

Property and casualty insurer Travelers Cos., which has a major presence in downtown Hartford, is one company in need of more data science college graduates.

“We’d be thrilled to recruit out of Connecticut; anything we can do to make the economy of Hartford and the state better will be good for all us,” said Mojgan Lefebvre, Travelers’ executive vice president and chief technology and operations officer. “Those universities in Connecticut [with data science programs] are getting it and are doing the right thing. We look forward to hiring many of the great graduates they will produce.”

Lefebvre said Travelers employs about 30,000 people worldwide, including 1,500 who work in data-related fields like actuaries, data scientists and data engineers.

“Data science is really the core to what we are doing,” she said. “We are constantly looking to interpret data, while also protecting our clients. We want to hire more people and grow this capability.”

Meantime, one focus of the data science programs is to ensure there is more gender diversity in the field, which tends to be male-dominated.

Fei Xue, chairperson of the mathematics department at the University of Hartford’s college of arts and sciences, said he encourages women applicants to consider a data science career. The school won’t launch its data science major until this fall, but it has offered a minor in the field for two years.

“In my own experience, women students are very good in science and do well in data science and mathematics,” Xue said.

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