Professional Development

Why Howard University’s new applied data science center will focus on racial equity

The Center for Applied Data Science and Analytics will include with a master's program launching in fall 2023. A goal is to boost racial equity in data and finance.

Howard University students.

(Courtesy photo)

DC’s Howard University is expanding its expertise in the data science space.

Howard, a Historically Black University, announced this week that it had received a $5 million grant from Mastercard to create a Center for Applied Data Science and Analytics. Provost Anthony Wutoh told Technical.ly that the school already has data science options and courses in a number of its schools, but this new center will create a centralized opportunity for learning.

“For Howard as an institution, we see this as an opportunity for us to use data science because it is becoming more and more ubiquitous,” Wutoh said. “Almost in every disciplinary area, you’re either using data science or you will be using it heavily, even in the social sciences and humanities.”

With the grant funding, Howard intends to hire seven faculty members for the center and create a master’s program in applied data science for 10 to 20 students to start. It will also be establishing a thought leadership series on inclusive growth and racial equity — a focus Wutoh said the sector needs — and complete research and training for data scientists who can expertly incorporate analysis of racial bias in financing. As Black consumers often face bias in algorithms, specifically in credit decisions and approvals, Wutoh noted, the center will be completing research on eliminating racial bias in credit approvals.

On the whole, though, Wutoh hopes to establish programming and open the center to students in a multitude of majors at the school, given the reach of data science.

“We’re intentionally designing it to be interdisciplinary,” Wutoh said. “Regardless of whether a student is majoring in in business or they’re majoring in communications or they’re majoring in art or they’re in the School of Social Work or in the College of Medicine, because data science is so ubiquitous, it’s an area that we believe that all of our students would benefit from learning more about.”

The center will officially launch this spring, but the school is still in the works for programming. Already, Wutoh said, the school has a draft curriculum for students and hired an interim director, William Southerland, as well as a faculty advisor group. He added that Howard intends to begin hiring faculty for the program this fall, and the first students in the master’s program will begin in fall 2023.

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Creating these opportunities for students, Wutoh thinks, will provide broader benefits for society.

“Because of the increasing use of data science and the increasing importance, we think it’s very key that there be diversity in the individuals who are using these tools,” Wutoh said. “We believe that a more diversified group of data scientists will help us make better decisions, will help us develop better algorithms and will help us have data science applied in a way that is more useful across society.”

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