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Regents OK new data science degree at Montana Tech — the only such degree in the state
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Regents OK new data science degree at Montana Tech — the only such degree in the state

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Montana Tech has the go-ahead to offer a new bachelor’s degree in data science — what the Harvard Business Review calls the “sexiest career of the 21st century.”

Starting a year from now, Tech will begin a stand-alone Bachelor of Science degree in data science — the only one of its kind offered in the Montana University System, according to Tech.

The Montana Board of Regents approved the new degree on Thursday in Billings.

“It’s a cutting-edge degree,” Tech professor Richard Rossi told The Montana Standard Thursday. “It’s an exciting new field in the information and technology sector."

Rossi, director of Tech’s statistics program, is co-creator of the degree program with colleague Jeff Braun, Tech computer science department associate professor.

If “sexy” could refer to the starting entry pay for new graduates, they could earn between $80,000 and $90,000 right out of the gate, Rossi said.

“It’s a great deal,” said Rossi.

Such a degree could come in handy in several fields.

“It’s something that all researchers and analysts need to have,” Barbara Wagner, chief economist for the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, told the Standard.

Data science graduates can work as data scientists, statisticians, business analysts, data warehousing and database administrators, and software developers.

“I anticipate some demand for the data science program from other disciplines,” added Wagner. “And hopefully they are working with the other disciplines to make sure that the IT (internet technology) skills are matched with knowledge on statistics and econometrics.”

Tech’s statistics faculty and computer science department will jointly run the new degree program.

“It’s been in place under ‘statistics’ as a different curriculum,” said Rossi. “This is a new and improved curriculum we put together in the last year.”

The new degree was redesigned to meet the needs of the job market, read a Tech press release.

Former mathematical sciences head at Tech, Rossi said “it will help undergraduate students compete in the growing field of data science in which there is currently a tremendous demand.”

He mentioned Oracle, a database management corporation in Bozeman, and government jobs as current hotspots for data scientists.

Offering such a degree will definitely serve as a recruiting tool, he added, plus it appeals to the type of student that already attends Tech:

“It’s the same group that would be interested in our engineering program, so we’re looking for students with strong quantitative skills — math and computational.”

An October 2012 article in the Harvard Business Review credited Hal Varian, a Google economist, with tagging computer engineers as the sexy job of the 1990s. The article notes:

“If ‘sexy’ means having rare qualities that are much in demand, data scientists are already there. They are difficult and expensive to hire and, given the very competitive market for their services, difficult to retain. There simply aren’t a lot of people with their combination of scientific background and computational and analytical skills.”

Now Tech remains a leader in the ever-changing field. It is also the only Montana university that offers a bachelor of science degree in statistics.

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Education Reporter who also covers features at The Montana Standard, I am a Cascade-Ulm-Great Falls native. Originally a sports writer, I wrote for the Missoulian and the Great Falls Tribune. I freelanced for The Seattle Times and other NW publications.

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