Our movements in the modern world are often tracked by companies, creating incomprehensible amounts of data that industries are desperate to tap into and monetize.
Data science is a rapidly growing field that offers graduates high entry-level pay and a plethora of career opportunities. That’s why Northampton Community College is launching a new associate’s degree program in the fall of 2021 and is developing a certificate program for professionals who already have a bachelor’s degree.
“What we need to do, and especially now, we want to make sure people have the ability to take their education and parlay it into dollars through a job,” said Denise Francois-Seeney, dean of NCC’s school of business and industry. “A program should at least get you or bring you to a high-paying job or a life-sustaining wage position.”
Graduates who earn an associate’s degree can transfer into a four-year program or go out into the workforce and obtain an entry-level job, Francois-Seeney said.
With an associate’s degree, grads could start in jobs making anywhere from $65,000 to $70,000 a year, she said. The median salary for a data science professional in Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree is $115,000 a year.
The program is designed so students pursuing other degree programs could add on the data science course progression to their studies as well.
“It is computer skills, it’s technical skills, math and statistical skills, analytical skills,” Francois-Seeney said of the data science field. “What discipline doesn’t need that? What discipline doesn’t need to get information from data?”
The program is the brainchild of NCC math Professor Alex Rolon, whose own interest in data science led him to use his sabbatical to design the degree.
“Northampton has always been on the cutting edge of technology and different programs and this was something that I thought we definitely could bring to Northampton,” Rolon said.
Like so many great ideas at Northampton, the program grew out of a hallway chat, Francois-Seeney said. Rolon had just updated NCC’s statistics course to modernize it and better align it with the curriculum at schools students transfer to. This was a natural progression, she said.
Rolon likes to use his stats classes to get students excited about all they can do with data and what they can learn. We no longer start out with a question and look for data to answer it, there’s a plethora of data to analyze and learn from, he said.
“Students are very creative when you give them an idea and the tools (to explore data),” Rolon said.
Rolon saw a niche need in the Lehigh Valley for such a targeted data science program, which could act as a feeder to four-year programs. DeSales University offers an undergrad data analytics program and Moravian College offers a graduate program. He hopes to also offer a certificate program for professionals looking to augment their data skills.
“We would be the only one on the East Coast with a two-year program,” Rolon said.
The information sciences career field, which includes data science, is projected to grow by 16% from 2018 until 2028, more than three times the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau Labor Statistics.
The NCC program will launch its first course in the fall. The progression includes four sequential data classes: principles of data, data visualization, statistical methods and a capstone course where students work intensively with data. The rest of the degree includes general education requirements, many with tie-ins like computer science, statistics and discrete math.
“We need to be at the forefront of what students may want, need and be interested in. We want to make sure we are not creating something that is going to languish,” Francois-Seeney said. “We are going to create something that there is an interest that will put students on their professional path. It is a flexible program, both as a standalone and it connects with other programs at the institution.
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Sara K. Satullo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.