State Council Approves New UVA Data Science Major

September 19, 2023

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) approved Tuesday the creation of an undergraduate major for the University of Virginia’s School of Data Science, a landmark development for the four-year-old school, which was the first of its kind in the nation.

Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, undergraduates could obtain a minor in data science, while graduate students could pursue master’s or doctoral degrees. Now, the establishment of the B.S. in Data Science will allow UVA’s undergraduates to focus their studies on this emerging and growing interdisciplinary field.

“The B.S. in Data Science major is a major milestone for the school,” said Phil Bourne, the founding dean of the School of Data Science. “It is the final and largest component of end-to-end rigorous data science pre- and postgraduate training for the workforce of today and tomorrow.”

University President Jim Ryan underscored the significance of the major’s approval and the University’s leading role in establishing data science as an academic field.

“The new data science major is a milestone moment and terrific opportunity for the School of Data Science, for the University, and for our students,” Ryan said. “I’m grateful to Dean Bourne and his team for their leadership, creative thinking, and hard work in seeing this effort to fruition.”

Beginning in the spring, current first-year students will be eligible to apply to the major, assuming they have either completed or are in the process of completing the program’s two prerequisite courses: DS 1001: Foundations of Data Science and DS 1002: Programming for Data Science. Students who are admitted and enroll in the major would then begin the three-year program in the fall.

The curriculum will focus on the four domains of data science the school has identified—analytics, systems, value, and design—which students then apply toward a fifth domain: practice.

“We've designed and are going to deploy a curriculum that is not seen anywhere else in the country,” said Brian Wright, an associate professor of data science and director of the school’s undergraduate programs. “It's a much more holistic view and we feel a domain-shifting perspective on what should be taught to data scientists.”

Professor Brian Wright and students in classroom
Associate Professor of Data Science Brian Wright and undergraduate students

Bourne added that in addition to “providing a rigorous, holistic” course of study, students in the major would be offered research opportunities and “a full suite of student services,” from academic advising to career preparedness.

“Taken together, I have every confidence in our future data science leaders,” he said.

By educating students on how to formulate data questions, perform analyses, and then interpret and present their findings, graduates with a data science major will be well equipped to work in a wide variety of industries in both the public and private sectors.

“The knowledge and skills that our undergraduate students will gain through the new bachelor’s degree program in data science will prepare them for analytical and critical thinking that is essential to life as an educated citizen,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Ian Baucom.

“Leaders at all levels—local, state, national, and global—need a keen understanding of how to interpret data and draw conclusions to inform policies and practices,” said Baucom. “This new degree program will help our students develop that understanding.”

Alexandra Torti, who will graduate in the spring with a degree in economics, minored in data science and said she is “so excited and jealous” that students would now have the opportunity to pursue the field as a major.

She urged prospective majors not to be deterred from pursuing the program out of fear that it would require extensive preexisting training in statistics and coding. “UVA does a really good job of starting from the very beginning,” she said.

“I think it’s a really great opportunity and something that’s super inclusive in multiple disciplines,” she added. 

Since 2014 UVA has offered a master of science in data science, initially through the Data Science Institute, the precursor to the school. Last August, the first cohort of doctoral students enrolled.

The School of Data Science was officially established in September 2019—nearly four years to the day before SCHEV signed off on the data science major. The school is UVA’s 12th and newest and was preceded by the creation of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, which began offering its bachelor’s degree in 2012.

The establishment of the School of Data Science was made possible in part by a $120 million donation from the Charlottesville-based Quantitative Foundation, the largest private gift in the University’s history. A new building for the School of Data Science—featuring adaptive classrooms and open, collaborative spaces—is set to open in April 2024, just a few months before the inaugural class of data science majors begin writing the next chapter in the school’s history. 


Senior Writer & Editor