Arts & Sciences to create new Department of Statistics and Data Science

Arts & Sciences to create new Department of Statistics and Data Science

The new department will provide a foundation for ambitious and innovative digital transformation across a range of disciplinary areas.

Arts & Sciences is moving forward with the creation of a new Department of Statistics and Data Science. According to Feng Sheng Hu, dean of Arts & Sciences, the hope is to build a world-class department with outstanding scholars who will transform the university intellectual community not only through their own activities and achievements but also through synergistic collaborations with existing faculty and departments across Arts & Sciences, the McKelvey School of Engineering, and all of the other schools at the university.

Dean Hu

The initiative to form a new department is the outcome of the most recent Arts & Sciences strategic plan and intersects significantly with emerging priorities from the university strategic planning process. The new department will provide a foundation for ambitious and innovative digital transformation across a range of disciplinary areas, filling a vital niche in the current academic landscape that leverages the emerging opportunities of computational and data science, and Washington University’s deep strength in the social sciences.

“We know we have considerable talent in both quantitative methods and research in areas of great relevance to social issues,” Chancellor Andrew D. Martin said. “Launching a department of statistics and data science at this moment of intense societal focus on big data and complex global problems gives us an opportunity to build on our strengths and contribute to the greater good. I believe we have the opportunity to create something truly distinctive in this space.”

The strong interest in statistics and data analytics is demonstrated by the multitude of programs informed by these areas in units across the university. The hope is that these activities and offerings will be further elevated by interactions and engagement with the new unit. Critical to the vision and future success of the new department is the close collaborative partnership and planning between Arts & Sciences and McKelvey Engineering, which have been working together to strengthen research and education in this area. But the new department will also be able to provide foundational data science support to all schools and programs across the university.

“I’m thrilled to see the idea for this new department emerge out of our strategic planning process and the signal it sends about the bold and innovative direction in which we are headed,” said Provost Beverly Wendland. “Data science is a fundamental domain of the 21st century, and this investment has the potential to transform work across the entirety of WashU.”

The current Department of Mathematics and Statistics will transition into the Department of Mathematics. Existing faculty will be allowed to hold joint positions if they so wish. Current degree programs for students will be continued and the two departments — both vital to the research and teaching mission of Arts & Sciences — will continue to collaborate closely on courses, curricula, and research activities. Once established, the new department will expand the offerings of courses and degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

“It is very gratifying to be taking this step at this moment of convergence and expansion for Arts & Sciences, and the university’s focus on digital transformation,” Hu said. “The initiative to create this new department reflects many hours of brainstorming, discussion, and planning with many colleagues, especially Aaron Bobick, dean of the McKelvey School of Engineering. I am also tremendously grateful for the support and guidance of John Shareshian, John McCarthy, and Soumen Lahiri, as well as the thoughtful insights and engagement of the entire department.”

The Department of Computer Science and Engineering in McKelvey Engineering, Bobick said, is particularly excited to see the continued growth of computing and data science across the campus. “The new department will be a natural bridge to Engineering for collaborations in research and education in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other emerging fields of computing and statistics.”

The next step will be to conduct a global search to recruit a chair to lead the effort of building the new department. Hu is in the process of appointing a search committee. The position description may be found on Inside ArtSci. Nominations and inquiries should be directed to Andrew Brown, vice dean of faculty affairs.