Partnering on a New Master’s

Bill’s Story

Bill Howe, associate director of the eScience Institute, and Continuum College collaborate to make new data science master’s program a reality.

The portfolio of services that Continuum College offers … you can’t get elsewhere.

 — Bill Howe, Associate Director, eScience Institute, eScience Institute

Bill Howe, program director and faculty chair of the new University of Washington Master of Science in Data Science, has a goal — to make the UW the premier place for all things data science.

He’s off to an impressive start. The UW eScience Institute, where Howe is associate director and senior data science fellow, gives researchers across all fields resources for data-intensive discovery. It also provides a space for data scientists and researchers to collaborate and apply advanced computational methods and tools to extract knowledge from big data.

A Big New Program Idea for Big Data

From the eScience Institute, Howe and Ed Lazowska, the founding director, have spearheaded data science education at many levels of the university. They’re working across departments to create a template that describes a core data science education for undergraduates. They’ve developed PhD programs specialized in big data and data science and an integrative program that crosses department boundaries. Howe teaches a MOOC in data science and has collaborated with Continuum College to create an eight-month Certificate in Data Science program for professionals to hone their skills.

What was missing in the puzzle, though, was something in between a PhD and a certificate — a professional master’s degree.

“We’re hoping the master’s degree will build a reputation for producing the most technically rigorous, most advanced, most successful students in data science, who can complement a team that might have PhD-level researchers as well,” Howe said.

To help him build and run this master’s program, Howe turned to Continuum College. “Continuum College has been invaluable in helping us both design and now operate the program,” Howe said. “It would have been almost impossible to put together without their help.”

The Central Idea: Making Continuum College the Hub

Data science is an interdisciplinary field, drawing on statistics, computer science, data visualization and more. To create the master’s, Howe needed to solve another puzzle — how to bring together faculty from a record number of different departments to form a cohesive entity.

“The benefit of building this six-department partnership is that we are able to get expertise from top-10 departments across the board to bear into one curriculum,” Howe said. “The downside is that you have to organize across six completely separate campus units.”

Instead of divvying up administrative work between departments or having one department responsible for the others, Continuum College offered its services as an independent unit. “The centrality of their position on campus meant they could talk to all the different departments,” Howe explained. “They provided the general leadership in driving this forward.”

They provided the general leadership in driving this forward.

 — Bill Howe, Associate Director, eScience Institute, eScience Institute

It All Adds Up

“The portfolio of services that Continuum College offers,” Howe continued, “you can’t get elsewhere.” From market research and advertising to admissions and finances, Howe found Continuum College invaluable for creating the infrastructure for the master’s program.

“They’ll say, answer these four or five questions and we’ll turn that into an initial website for the entire program. We’ll run an information session and an email campaign with some numbers on click-throughs. We’ll coordinate on the application process,” Howe explained.

Expanding the Effectiveness of Continuing Education

Because the data science program is a professional master’s degree, Continuum College used its expertise in adult education to tailor market research and messaging.

“The interpretation of market research results, knowing the kinds of cohorts we can expect and how to advertise the program, all reflects a strong understanding of working professionals who are looking for continuing education,” Howe said. “Continuum College’s institutional experience in understanding and reaching out to that cohort of potential students has been really important to us.”