ST. JOESEPH -- A new major at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict harnesses computer science and mathematics to help improve business efficiency.

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The new Data Science department will train students to develop new ways of looking at business productivity.

Dr. Robert Hesse - Submitted by SJU/CSB
Dr. Robert Hesse - Submitted by SJU/CSB
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Dr. Robert Hesse is co-chair of the new major. He explains what Data Science is.

It's a synthesis of mathematics, computer science (and) statistics. And it's kind of a hybrid combination of those that use algorithms to look at data. Usually, when you get data, you have to clean the data. Once you have the data in a form that you can work with, then you can do some analysis on (it). A lot of times that analysis could either be a mathematical model, or it could be some sort of statistical analysis.

Dr. Imad Rahal - Submitted by SJU/CSB
Dr. Imad Rahal - Submitted by SJU/CSB
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Dr. Imad Rahal is the other co-chair of the new major. He says the science is old, but the insight is cutting edge.

The main job of a data scientist is to (understand that) every problem requires a different solution. You don't just grab a solution, you have to think about the data that you have, the context in which it exists, and come up with smart algorithms or mathematical models, to be able to use the data in a proper context. This is where the job of a scientist comes in, they have to understand the environment, and they have the background, the math and computer science to produce those models.

Rahal says only 20% of universities in the nation offer this type of major, and recruiting experts in the field to teach is a challenge.

The challenge is that you need statisticians and need computer scientists. Industry demand for those two is very high, so not a lot of colleges are able to recruit people with that expertise to teach. In this department, we have three who all have the same expertise in that particular area, so it kind of worked out well for us, but that's probably not the same for a lot of places.

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