In this June 27, 2014, file photo, a student takes samples for their research project on aquaponics at Mountaintop Campus. The Data X initiative was launched in May 2015 to help provide students with the opportunity to learn more about data literacy on Mountaintop Campus. (Courtesy of Alexander Derish)

Data X expansion brings data literacy to campus programs


Lehigh’s Data X initiative aims to help students gain data literacy to enter the workforce of the 21st century.

The Data X program was started in 2015 by then-interim president Kevin Clayton and provost Pat Farrell. The initiative focuses on teaching students basic computing skills, regardless of their college. Data X also supports student-run hackathons designed to let students explore and experiment with coding.

Daniel Lopresti serves as the director of the Data X initiative and the chair of the computer science and engineering department. Over the past two years, Lehigh has hired five new data-focused faculty in CSE, four in the business college, three in bio-engineering and one in journalism. New courses in text mining, cyber security and machine learning have followed.

“The key is to bolster Lehigh’s reputation, to layer everything we are known for and put this on top of it so we stick out even more from the crowd,” Lopresti said.

Lehigh hopes to use the Mountaintop campus as the Data X headquarters. The university has owned the land underneath buildings B and C on Mountaintop campus for years. However, the actual buildings were originally owned by Bethlehem Steel. Mittal Steel Company bought the assets after the closing of Bethlehem Steel and sold them to Lehigh. Since 2014, the buildings have been used to house the Launch Bay C summer program where students are able to research and create projects.

The current phase of rebuilding Building C is reconstructing the old wings to mirror the workspaces of big companies like Google and Facebook. Started in summer 2016, the remodel is set to be completed by the end of 2017.

“We do the whole data analytics field a disservice by putting it over to the side,” said Georgette Phillips, the dean of the College of Business and Economics. “It is a part of a business curriculum. Just as you shouldn’t have a school that doesn’t teach marketing or finance, you shouldn’t have a school that doesn’t pay attention to data analytics.”

Lopresti said he does not know what the next phase will be for Data X. However, he said the university’s Path to Prominence expansion plan will happen in parallel and will not affect construction.

Marketing professor and chairman David Griffith said Data X allowed an academic track to be created within the marketing department for marketing analytics. This track allows students to explore the quantitative side of marketing while studying necessary computer skills for the modern-day workforce.

Griffith said marketing analytics within CSE are growing every year. He said it’s important for students to understand how data is used and to be able to apply their own interpretations as they move forward in their careers.

Additionally, the CSE department created a business analytics certificate alongside Data X. The certificate is similar to a minor but more flexible. The certificate will be given to students who have taken newer courses in data analytics and will help students understand the predictive, descriptive and prescribed areas of data science.

Last year, Lehigh held its first Data X symposium. The keynote speaker, NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel, spoke about the importance of interdisciplinary aspects like computer science, consumer data analytics and digital media. The next symposium will deal with new questions in regards to data in education and how it is connected to the health field.

“It takes a lot of work to put the symposium together and create thought-provoking discussion,” Lopresti said. “Visitors are blown away by the outcome.”

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