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Student at a computer, click for larger image

A birdsong trills, the audio bar spikes on the computer’s monitor and a real-life data science lesson is taught at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. Students in the computer lab are applying data science to recordings of an endangered Hawaiian bird and hope to create tools for conservation and other purposes.

“The data science program here at UH Hilo is project-based learning,” says Madori Rumpungworn, a UH Hilo physics student. “Not only are you learning a project on the spot, but youʻre learning this new concept, you’re applying it right away and you’re helping, solving real-life problems that pertain to home.”

UH Hilo launched its data science program by offering a certificate in the fast growing field in fall 2018.

“We are filling a need that the state has,” says UH Hilo Data Science Program Director Roberto Pelayo. “There’s a lot of data out there. There’s a lot of complicated data, and there aren’t a lot of trained people currently that are able to analyze the data and make conclusions.”

Data science is a versatile field because almost every branch of science collects massive amounts of data, also known as “big data,” and has processes for analyzing all of this information.

“Data science is what you get when you bring together the power of stats and also all the algorithmic thinking from computer science. When you bring them together, a synergy is created that really allows you to solve extremely complicated problems,” Pelayo explains.

The data science certificate is open to all students, regardless of major or background.

UH Hilo marine science student Spencer Frawley said, “I think the potential [for data science] is huge and I think that we can actually tap into that potential and it can be something wonderful.”

Cissy Monroe, a UH Hilo environmental science student, added, “I think that’s something really powerful and something we need to get better at, like using data to drive our decision-making processes in pretty much every field is something that is really important.”

UH Hilo plans to seek approval for a bachelor’s degree in data science in 2020, when IBM predicts there will be more than 2.7 million job openings in the United States.

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