MTSU Launches Data Science Master’s Program to Equip Students for Advanced Positions in Growing Industry


Qiang Wu, director of MTSU’s new Data Science master’s program and professor, knows from his 10-plus years of teaching and research that data science solves real-world problems.

“I believe data science and artificial intelligence will be key powers to develop technology and change the world,” Wu said.

Middle Tennessee State University professor Qiang Wu, director of the university’s new Data Science master’s program, smiles while working with student participants during the Data Dive event held June 18, 2022, inside Kirksey Old Main. (MTSU photo by James Cessna)

Having just graduated its first cohort of undergraduate degrees in the spring, MTSU has launched the new master’s program — the first cohort set to start this fall — to teach students advanced data science skills, so that they are even more competitive when entering this burgeoning and innovative industry.

“Our target population with the master’s program is students who have a strong intent to develop a career in data science and are expected to be able to analyze a large amount of data and complete other high-level tasks immediately upon graduation,” Wu said.

Prospective students are not required to hold a data science-related degree to qualify: The minimum admission requirement is a bachelor’s degree and cumulative GPA of 2.75.

“Foundation courses will be available to help students with any skill gaps,” Wu said.

The creation of the master’s program along with the university’s already-existing graduate certificate, doctoral and year-old undergraduate data science programs reflects the growing market demand for data science professionals.

The Bureau of Labor’s employment statistics project an increase in Tennessee’s data science-related employment growth greater than the national average, Wu said. In addition, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission has been working with postsecondary institutions since 2020 to increase the number of computer science and data analytics degrees by 20% over a five-year period.

“With the (added) move-in of high-tech companies such as Amazon and Facebook to the Midstate, I believe 20% does not overestimate the data science career growth in the Nashville area in the next five to 10 years, although a precise figure is not available,” Wu said.

Amazon plans to add 5,000 new corporate and technology jobs with its downtown Nashville office set for completion in 2023. The first of the two-building project is up and running as of fall 2021 with 2,500 employees already hired. The Facebook data center facility in Gallatin, Tennessee, is set to be operational in 2023 and hire 100 new employees.

Plus, Wu added, the industry is not limited to the realm of technology. Any business or organization that collects data needs help from a data scientist to decipher and use it.

Originally from the Shandong Province of China, Wu’s extensive, interdisciplinary background in machine learning, statistics, math, actuarial science and business analytics make him a perfect fit in data science, he said.

He and other faculty from several different departments designed the master’s program with the same interdisciplinary philosophy in mind to provide graduates with relevant, applicable skills for the industry’s variety of opportunities.

“There’s great flexibility in the programming to accommodate each student’s unique needs,” Wu said. “It is interdisciplinary in nature with instructors from both the College of Basic and Applied Sciences and the Jones College of Business. Students can also take elective courses from specialties from several different departments to best fit the industry they are interested in.”

Though spots in the inaugural cohort this fall are currently full, Wu said faculty closely monitor enrollment and encouraged students to apply up until the July 31 deadline to get on the waiting list or apply by the Dec. 31 deadline for spring 2023 admission.

Endless potential 

David Jean, one of 20 students in the master program’s first cohort, is interested in data science because of its endless potential.

Middle Tennessee State University professor Qiang Wu, center, director of the university’s new Data Science master’s program works with students, from left, Lindsay Rogerson, Curtis Corazao, Wu, Afsaneh Caden and Ray Hill during the Data Dive event held June 18, 2022, inside Kirksey Old Main. (MTSU photo by James Cessna)

“Society is producing data at an exponential rate, and the need to be able to work with it seems like a truly invaluable skill!” Jean said.

A native of Franklin, Tennessee, Jean graduated with a bachelor’s degree in data science from MTSU this spring and wanted to continue to the master’s program because he really enjoyed the students and faculty.

“The students always push each other to be their best and strive for more while the faculty is always willing to genuinely engage and offer advice,” he said.

Jean said he was thankful to the data science faculty for giving him so many opportunities and a great experience so far.

Lisa Green, associate math professor and director of the undergraduate program, helped Jean found the Data Science Club. Josh Phillips, associate computer science professor, hosted the 2022 hackathon event that Jean won, Ryan OtterData Science Institute director, offered Jean an internship, and Wu recently brought Jean on as a graduate assistant.

“The faculty were always there for me inside and outside of the classroom,” he said.

To learn more about the Data Science master program, visit the website here

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