ABET, a national accreditor of programs in science, technology and engineering, has announced that Northern Kentucky University’s bachelor’s degree in data science will be the first of only two data science programs in the United States to pass the rigorous assessment process receive accreditation from the organization.
ABET was founded in 1932 and was formerly known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. ABET accredits 4,361 programs at 850 colleges and universities in 41 countries. NKU’s engineering technology programs have been ABET-accredited since 1994.
Over the past decade, data science has emerged as an important new field, leading ABET to announce that it would create accreditation standards for it. NKU was selected in 2020 as one of only two universities to go through the first accreditation process.
When it started in 2013, NKU’s data science program was only the third such undergraduate program in the United States and the first in the greater Cincinnati area. The degree is offered in the new School of Computing and Analytics in the NKU College of Informatics. With a strong focus on big data analytics and machine learning, the program combines a strong background in computer science and statistics with real-world capstone projects.
Allen Detmer, vice president and cognitive computing architect at Fidelity Investments, got a first-hand look at the work of NKU’s Data Science Capstone students in May. The project used artificial intelligence techniques to conduct sentiment analysis of social media posts.
“The final project with NKU students for the 2021/22 academic year was a successful and rewarding experience,” said Detmer. “Their progress has always exceeded our expectations and they have achieved more in one semester. The students worked outside of their traditional course and advanced many of the research aspects of the project with minimal guidance from Fidelity. Their final presentation gave us useful insights that will take Fidelity products further.”
From the start, NKU leaders recognized that data science is many things at the same time. “We started designing the data science program back in 2011,” said Dr. Kevin Kirby, Dean of the NKU College of Informatics. “We have built an interdisciplinary team of faculties from computer science, statistics and business informatics, because a good data scientist must be broad-based, a true renaissance person.”
NKU’s Data Science degree was a starting point for successful careers. Parker Kain graduated in 2019 and is now a Senior Data Scientist at 84.51º in Cincinnati.
According to Kain, “NKU’s Data Science program has enabled me to handle the breadth of what can be asked of a data scientist. The program provides a strong foundation, from data manipulation and analysis to visualization and storytelling. At the same time, the program offers students the freedom to explore their interests with open-ended project work while delving deeply into areas of their choice. It provided an amazing launch pad for my career and allowed me to understand the true lifecycle of data science, which put me in a good position to make a big impact at work.”
The ABET approach to accreditation focuses on learning outcomes and aligns with a set of attributes that professionals must possess to excel in their field. dr Maureen Doyle, the chair of the computer science department, was a member of the Association of Computing Machinery’s working group to develop a data science curriculum guide and led the NKU effort. dr Seth Adjei from the NKU School of Computing and Analytics acted as project leader.
“The ABET accreditation review process is rigorous and thorough in evaluating program content, evaluation and university support,” said Doyle. “The ABET team meets with everyone from students to university presidents. Our NKU colleagues from the library, the provost and the mathematics and statistics department all contributed to this success. I am proud of how NKU came together to make this accreditation possible.”
As a leader in data science, NKU is also working to engage K-12 students in the field. NKU is the primary campus partner of WeLead CS, an initiative to expand access to accelerated early college computer careers for Kentucky high school students. House Bill 680, passed by the Kentucky General Assembly and signed by the governor in May, calls on WeLead CS to develop “the nation’s first sequential high school career path that prepares students for careers in data science.” Initial efforts are being implemented through iLEAD, a regional career academy serving high school students in five rural counties.
“The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of jobs requiring data science skills will increase 27.9 percent through 2026,” said Alicia Sells, director of innovation at the Ohio Valley Education Cooperative. “With a national median salary for data scientists exceeding $176,000, it is imperative that Kentucky prepares students for these opportunities. With guidance from the NKU College of Informatics, WeLead CS has developed a dual college credit program that will provide a seamless pipeline from Kentucky high schools to NKU’s bachelor’s degree in data science. This talent development strategy is an intelligent educational and economic development policy for Kentucky’s future. The ABET accreditation of the NKU bachelor’s degree gives great credibility to our efforts to engage schools, students and parents.”
Since 2005, the NKU College of Informatics has brought together a wide range of information-oriented fields, from journalism to software engineering. It has been a Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education for the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security since 2015. NKU’s data science program is among a series of college programs that are experiencing sudden new growth. Enrollments in NKU’s computer science and software development program cluster, which includes data science, are up more than 18 percent year-over-year.
Northern Kentucky University