Thinking About an M.S. in Data Science? Online Program Director Jon Kropko Has a Message for You

May 26, 2023
Jon Kropko

Dear Future Data Scientist,
My name is Jon Kropko. I am a professor in the School of Data Science, and I am the director of the Online MSDS program. I really appreciate that you are considering our program. It’s not going to be easy, but we work hard to help you get to where you want to go. Here are a few things I'd like you to know:
The idea of going back to school while keeping things afloat at work and at home is a daunting one. But we are here to help. Our students are people with full-time jobs, families, and other important things going on in their lives, and our mission is to provide a world-class data science education to anyone, regardless of their circumstances. 
One of the big advantages of this program is that we are a live, real-time, face-to-face program, and not a collection of asynchronous videos. Our faculty, staff, Student Affairs and Career Services team members will do all we can to integrate you into the School of Data Science and the greater University of Virginia community. Get to know your peers, engage with alumni, ask questions, and discover the exciting opportunities available here at the School of Data Science, UVA, and beyond.
The Online MSDS program is built for people with lives, with full time jobs, with families, and with real-world experience with data. We exist for students who have everything it takes to be a stellar data scientist, but can’t take a year off to move to Charlottesville. That’s why we designed this program to be as flexible and accessible as possible while being focused on the high-quality teaching that UVA is known for. 
We will do everything we can to honor your commitment and effort by working with you to help you fit this program into your busy life and by providing a great, holistic data science education. No lies, this program is tough. But you wouldn’t apply if you weren’t up for a challenge, and capable of rising mightily to this specific type of challenge. 
Our classes mix live sessions that happen in the evening with asynchronous coursework that you can take on whenever works for you. Our instructors include full-time faculty in the School of Data Science and professionals in industry who work for Amazon, Oracle, and other tech companies. During class, they are right there with you over Zoom, and they are also available to chat or talk individually. You will get to know your classmates: they are smart and driven, just like you, and they have their own experiences with data that can show you how broad the field of data science is and how vast your opportunities will be with a data science degree.
You’ll learn about where data science methods and models come from and how they work – and that makes all the difference for building confidence in your ability to choose the right methods for a problem and to speak as a data expert in a professional setting. And you’ll also get to apply these methods to real-world data problems. As an example, in my class, DS 6001: Practice and Applications of Data Science, we will work with a dataset containing over 9 million criminal court cases in Virginia, anonymized to protect people with criminal records. We look at marijuana-based offenses and consider the effect of a new law that will go into effect in 2025 that will clear these records and open up opportunities for housing and employment that had previously been denied to people with these kinds of offenses on their record. We break the data down by geographic location and race and reveal the story that only a careful and skilled data analysis can tell. Throughout this course and the others in the program you will work with real and meaningful data from many fields. You will also work on a capstone project with a small group of your classmates, taking on a problem on behalf of a client from industry, government, or a nonprofit, and you will work closely with a faculty mentor during this process. Between the capstone and your applied coursework, you can build an impressive professional portfolio.
And as a student in the MSDS program, you are a UVA student. We have opportunities for you to get involved not only with your classmates but with other students in the School of Data Science and at UVA more generally. We launched a Sports Analytics Club last year, which is run by online MSDS students and includes residential MSDS students, undergrads, Ph.D. students, faculty, and alumni. Last year we ran hackathons and hosted speakers including data scientists working for NFL and NBA teams.
We are honored that you are considering our program, and we hope to be able to work together with you as you work toward achieving your goals. We are proud of helping our students accelerate their careers and achieve their long-term goals and are eager to do the same for you. 
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to the School of Data Science Admissions Team at any time with questions, or to learn more about the curriculum and community, career support, and life as a graduate student in data science. You can also request more information or attend a virtual event. We are here for you!
Jon Kropko 
Assistant Professor of Data Science
Program Director, Online M.S. in Data Science


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