The Institute’s director, Dr. Michael Rappa, traveled to Manhattan this week to participate in a plenary panel discussion on data scientists at Building a Smarter University: Big Data, Innovation and Ingenuity, hosted by The State University of New York (SUNY) and its Chancellor, Nancy Zimpher. The event was the third installment in the SUNY Critical Issues in Higher Education conference series. In a wide ranging and sometimes contentious discussion, Dr. Rappa was joined by Harper Reed, self-proclaimed hacker and former CTO of the Obama re-election campaign; Vivek Wadhwa, technology entrepreneur turned academic and frequent columnist; and Dr. Shirley Malcom, Head of Education and Human Resources for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Moderated by Scott Jaschik, CEO and Editor at Inside Higher Ed, the panelists were quick to criticize university faculty and administrators for a lack of relevancy in curricula (Reed), their limited understanding and use of social media (Wadhwa), and the dwindling diversity of students in STEM majors (Malcom). Seeking to inject a positive note, Dr. Rappa highlighted the vital importance of universities in educating a new generation of data savvy professionals, but also warned against complacency over data privacy and the looming danger of a “data divide” that segments society into the educated minority who understand data and the many who do not. He advocated for the idea of a “Data 101” across the curriculum so students learn early in their studies how to navigate the digital ecosystem permeating modern society. He also encouraged universities to embrace innovative and scalable learning models to promote and strengthen interdisciplinary education in data science, pointing to the success of the Institute for Advanced Analytics as one example.