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Professor Awarded NSF Grant to Host Data Science Workshop

Brian Beaton, director of the Center for Expressive Technology, was awarded nearly $25,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to host a two-day workshop entitled "Social Facets of Data Science." The primary objective of the workshop, held Nov. 10-11 during Fall quarter 2016, was to bring academic researchers from other universities and students together around the topic of data science, which is an important and growing field that operates at the intersection of the STEM fields and the liberal and creative arts.

Rather than offering a series of formal research paper presentations, the workshop was an interactive meeting focused on data science’s values, communication patterns, analytical habits, standards, tools, infrastructures and ethical codes. Beaton and his colleagues from other institutions will use findings from the workshop to produce a “Next Steps” document for the NSF. 

The workshop featured a question and answer panel with students currently studying data science.

“We shout out to people: ‘Do you use Netflix? Has it ever recommended a movie?’” said Jeff Ernst, Cal Poly grad student and member of the campus Data Science Club. “When they say ‘yes’ we say: ‘That’s data science!’”

Data science is an interdisciplinary field that analyzes data and provides key insights. It is evident in any “suggested-content” style of web browsing, like the kind used in Netflix and iTunes.

“It's indisputable that data science is one of the most important developments in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) of the 21st century,” said Beaton.

He says data science also merges STEM with the critical and creative fields of the liberal arts to produce a new useful form of knowledge.

“Data scientists communicate their findings to a tremendous array of internal and external audiences,” Beaton said. “Effective communication is another core aspect of a liberal arts education, so too is thinking about the social implications of one's actions and the cultural politics surrounding different kinds of knowledge practices. Nothing could be more central to the advancement of data science as a profession.”

Beaton says professions related to data science are found in media, publishing, public policy, social science and others. Cal Poly offers a cross disciplinary studies minor in data science to benefit students interested in the growing field.

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