Purdue set to take data science program statewide using Lilly Endowment grant

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Purdue University is set to take a data science program it launched in West Lafayette in 2018 statewide thanks to a $10 million grant Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded last month as part of a larger effort to help Indiana colleges and universities address long-term priorities.

The Indiana Digital Crossroads program will create regional data science hubs throughout the state that are meant to bring undergraduate college students, faculty, business leaders and high school students together to help prepare workers for future jobs.

One goal will be to “find innovative ways to address real-world issues facing workforce development and the economic prosperity of Indiana communities,” said Purdue Provost Jay Akridge, who is also executive vice president for academic affairs and diversity.

The first hubs will be at Purdue University Fort Wayne and Purdue Polytechnic Institute in Anderson.

Mark Daniel Ward, professor of statistics and director of The Data Mine at Purdue University. (Purdue University photo).

The project builds on Purdue’s existing The Data Mine initiative, which started three years ago when Mark Daniel Ward, a professor of statistics, started working with students from various academic backgrounds who wanted to learn about data science and how to use it in their careers.

In the first year, The Data Mine had fewer than 100 students. This year, The Data Mine will provide training and opportunities to 600 Purdue undergraduate and graduate students and coordinate projects with 26 companies. Ward is director of the program.

The program is not necessarily aimed at computer science students. It’s aimed at students across a variety of majors who will benefit from understanding data in their careers—essentially any student headed for any industry.

“The data-driven economy creates opportunities for companies that need a well-prepared and diverse workforce,” Ward said in a statement from Purdue. “By partnering and collaborating with Indiana companies, we are enabling students from all disciplines to better understand data-intensive jobs and careers.”

He said the expansion of the program will allow students to “live and work near their hometown. These opportunities also will attract students from other states to establish their careers here in Indiana.”

He said some students have received internships and job offers after working with companies on data projects. “And our corporate partners want to grow their workforce with students who have a knowledge of data science, the company’s workplace culture and the necessary domain-specific skills,” Ward said.

The money for the program was among the $70 million in grants the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment awarded to 16 Indiana colleges and universities.

The grants ranged from $2.7 million to $10 million and represent the third and final phase of the endowment’s “Charting the Future for Indiana’s Colleges and Universities” initiative, the philanthropic giant said last month.

The endowment funded nine large-scale projects with the grants, several of which are shared by more than one school. And several of the projects involve collaborations with community organizations, K-12 schools and employers.

“Indiana’s colleges and universities face myriad challenges as they work to fulfill their educational missions while adapting to growing financial pressures, rapid demographic and technological changes, and evolving needs and demands of students,” Ted Maple, the endowment’s vice president for education, said in a media release.

Peter Dragnev, chairman of Purdue Fort Wayne’s Department of Mathematical Sciences, said he expects Indiana Digital Crossroads to provide immersive experiences to a wide variety of students and help a number of companies in northeast Indiana.

“The opportunity to positively impact the lives of first-generation students and underrepresented minorities by empowering them with the data-driven experiences and skills is exhilarating,” Dragnev said in a statement. “Data science is reshaping our present and our future, and we will play a central role in this revolution, which is so important for our communities.”

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