Shaping the Future of Data Science Education

Reflections on the 2023 ADSA Leadership Summit

By: Rebecca Schroeder

The 2023 ADSA Leadership Summit proved to be a transformative experience, opening new horizons for the future of data science education. As I reflect on the event, I am particularly inspired by two sessions that left a profound impact on my vision for the field. These sessions delved into the organizational structures of data science programs and explored diverse pathways to data science education, offering valuable insights and fostering collaboration among experts in the field.

2023 ADSA Data Science Leadership Summit attendees at the Museum of Science in Boston, MA.

2023 ADSA Leadership Summit attendees at the Boston Museum of Science, from left to right: Jay Aikat, Terry Magnuson, Kristina Reimer, Moti Zwilling, Veronica Woodlief, Emily Grabowski, Mimmo Parisi, Stan Aholt, Rebecca Schroeder, Debzani Deb, Xiaoming Huo, and Rachel Saidi

Data Science Organizational Structures

The first session examined the varied organizational models and structures implemented by universities to meet the rising demand for data science education and research. Experts discussed the tradeoffs, interdisciplinary collaboration, and implications for growth and sustainability. Notably, Azer Bestavros from Boston University presented their innovative spiral educational model, which integrates real-world problems from the start, emphasizing iterative learning and immediate application. This approach equips students with a deep understanding of how mathematical and computational concepts translate to practical data analysis, aligning with the agile practices of the evolving data science field.

Data science degrees differ from traditional majors in several ways. Firstly, it is not a linear, one-size-fits-all pathway; instead, it combines and builds upon various STEM disciplines. The interdisciplinary nature of data science allows students to pursue electives in related fields, such as environmental sustainability, health sciences, journalism, or ethics. Additionally, the degree is highly applied, emphasizing experiential learning and requiring a practicum to apply data science skills in real-world projects. It is also flexible, accommodating minors and dual degrees, providing students with the opportunity to explore different fields and interests within the 64 required credits. Two distinct paths within the major allow students to specialize either in technology-focused aspects like statistics, machine learning, and AI or in connecting data science with specific disciplines.

The summit also featured impactful panelists who shed light on their initiatives within the data science landscape. During a Data Science Organizational Structures breakout session Doug Hague from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte shared insights into their pioneering School of Data Science (SDS). The SDS program leverages the region's rich ecosystem of research, industry, and community engagement to bridge the gap between society and technology. SDS focuses on interdisciplinary collaboration, harnessing the power of data to address challenges ranging from misinformation to urban planning and organizational performance.

Ramps & Pathways to Data Science

This session focused on expanding the enrollment of students in data science and analytics programs, addressing the growing global demand for data scientists and analysts. It explored alternative pathways, including upskilling from different professions, community colleges, minority-serving institutions, K-12 programs, and certificate programs. Discussions revolved around overcoming challenges such as raising awareness about data science careers, dispelling stigma around nontraditional pathways, and establishing articulation agreements with four-year institutions. The session provided valuable insights from representatives of colleges, MSIs, and K-12 organizations, aiming to guide the creation of data science programs and foster collaboration for broader participation in the field.

Promoting Collaboration and Impact

The ADSA Leadership Summit exemplifies the significance of convening key players in academia, non-profits, and industry to foster collaboration and broaden participation in data science education. These connections enable transformative initiatives, such as the HBCU Data Science Consortium, led by Jason Black from Florida A&M University, which fosters collaboration among historically black colleges and universities, supporting research, securing funding, and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in data science. The impact of the HBCU Consortium's successful collaborations among four-year institutions and community colleges was truly inspiring, igniting a passion within the GenAI Consortium at UTSA to achieve similar milestones in the coming years.

Additionally, Zarek Drozda from Data Science for Everyone (DS4E) highlighted their commitment to providing equitable access to data science education from K-12. DS4E empowers students with essential data literacy skills, creating opportunities for higher education, high-paying careers, and community engagement. The session led to promising discussions between UTSA and DS4E, fostering a potential partnership to revolutionize the K-12 data science landscape in Texas.


The 2023 ADSA Leadership Summit has left an indelible mark on the future of data science education. The exploration of organizational structures, diverse pathways, and impactful initiatives has illuminated new possibilities and invigorated efforts to make data science education accessible, inclusive, and impactful. By building networks, fostering collaborations, and promoting diversity, the summit has set the stage for the evolution of data science education that will shape our society and empower future generations.

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