Yuan Xue, '15G, engages in cross-displinary research in Packard Lab on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. The Data X Initiative meets student demand with emerging edge of technology. (Shunnan Liu/B&W photo)

Data X program seeks interdisciplinary faculty

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With a growing emphasis on the role of technology in academia, students will now be able to participate in interdisciplinary programs thanks to Lehigh’s Data X initiative.

The university launched Data X last May to build programs centered around computer science and data analytics, while flowing those disciplines into more traditional academic areas like journalism and marketing.

Daniel Lopresti, the director of the Data X initiative and interim dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, said the program is working on hiring new faculty to continue to develop Data X.

“People know academic programs, majors, minors, centers – people naturally think Data X is like a program,” Lopresti said. “Like it’s going to be a new major or research center or minor or certificate. The current version of Data X is none of those. What it does, though, is enable a bunch of things.”

Student demand for computer science programs has greatly increased, and the number of students majoring in computer science has practically tripled, Lopresti said. More importantly, though, he said students are choosing to partner their computer science degrees with majors or minors in the College of Arts and Sciences, the business school and a variety of engineering degrees.

Data X strives to encourage interdisciplinary studies in areas such as bioengineering, marketing and digital media. (Samantha Tomaszewski/Made with Canva)

Data X strives to encourage interdisciplinary studies in areas such as bioengineering, marketing and digital media. (Samantha Tomaszewski/Made with Canva)

Computer science and business student Jane Nekrasova, ’17, said she believes connecting computer science to other disciplines will lead to increased success in careers.

“I think that it is crucial for Lehigh to prioritize creating fields of computer science that are connected to other disciplines because with the constant technological advances there is a high demand for those kinds of students,” Nekrasova wrote in an email.

Companies have started reaching out to the university about Data X.

“Just today I’ve had two separate meetings with companies that are aggressively trying to recruit Lehigh students, and the reason they got in touch with us is because of Data X,”  Lopresti said.

Innovative Systems, a company headquartered in Pittsburgh, was one of the companies to connect with Lehigh because of Data X. Microsoft was also motivated to release the software DreamSpark to all Lehigh students to use for free that was formerly just for computer science students.

Finding faculty for the project, however, takes time and patience. Lopresti believes the process will take three to four years. The new faculty will at first lead to new courses, but then also minors, certificates and possibly even a new major. Students will also have increased independent study opportunities with the new faculty.

Among the various searches Lehigh is conducting to add faculty to the Data X program is Lehigh’s journalism department. 

Jeremy Littau is an assistant professor of journalism on the search committee for two new hires between the journalism and computer science departments. Also on the committee are Jeff Heflin and Michael Spear of the computer science department and Sharon Friedman of the journalism department.

Littau said the committee is looking to select two “complimentary hires”: one professor specializing in computer science and one specializing in journalism, with interest in the opposing discipline. He said he hopes the two new hires would eventually work together and add a bit of each others’ approaches to their teaching.

“This is a department that is still maintaining its traditional strengths, but trying to bootstrap to some of the more current trends in the field that are helping our students get jobs,” Littau said.

Dependent on the kind of person it hires, Littau said he could see the journalism department offering courses in areas such as coding or data analytics. He said he is excited to see Lehigh getting out in front of this growing trend of interdisciplinary programs.

“We’re thinking about what are the things that they could bring to our department that would be new and could lead to the creation of a course or a set of courses that would allow us to put more data into what we do,” he said.

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