Data science minor may be in store at Pomona, with proposal in the works

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A data science minor at Pomona College may become a reality following a proposal from professors. (Emily Briones • The Student Life)

With the ever-growing demand for data science and computer science, Pomona College professors have been working for over four years to create a data science minor. While there is no timeline for the proposal’s completion, students and alumni have again expressed support to add the minor.

About half a dozen professors — including math and statistics professor Jo Hardin and assistant professor of psychological science and neuroscience Shannon Burns — belong to an ad hoc committee at Pomona designing the minor proposal. The committee, which is over four years old, has members across different departments, according to Hardin.

At Pomona, a data science minor would consist of a course sequence from classes that already exist, according to Burns. Referencing the Office of Consortial Academic Colloboration’s Data Science Initiative, a hypothetical course sequence would include introductory computer science (CS), statistics, data science ethics and linear algebra courses, Hardin said. 

The minor would also require students to complete an interdisciplinary project involving data science, such as determining how ethical decisions are made with quantitative data or examining the ethics of AI-generated art. 

The proposal comes from the Office of Consortial Academic Collaboration (OCAC), whose mission is “to develop and maintain effective and enduring cross-campus academic collaborations among the Claremont Colleges” as well as at Keck Graduate Institute and Claremont Graduate University. 

Since its inception, OCAC has begun a Justice Education Initiative, a Faculty Mentoring and Collaborative Research Initiative and the Data Science Initiative

The Curriculum Committee, the voting body that decides whether to accept the proposal, consists of Pomona’s dean, associate dean, the Registrar, six faculty members and three students chosen by Pomona’s student governing body.

The professors working on the proposal have been in conversation with a variety of contributors, including faculty, the Curriculum Committee and deans. 

The movement to grow data science resources at the 5Cs mirrors nationwide trends in increasing the number of undergraduate data science programs and a booming demand for data science skills across multiple sectors, including education. 

5C computer science and data science programs began expanding around 2018. In 2020, Scripps College introduced a data science minor, with a computer science minor debuting this fall. 

Hardin said that some conceptualize data science as an interdisciplinary field that is a Venn diagram of computer science, math and statistics — all of which are essential to navigating what comes after college courses.

“So much, in the 21st century, of the way you interact with society — the way systems and society have impacts on you — involves data in some way,” Burns said. “Data is like a way of inquiry, of communication. It feels very natural to fit it into our liberal arts mission. We know how to read really well, write really well and talk to each other, so we should know how to use and think about data really well also.” 

Hardin added that the minor would speak to how a data science program can give students more than simply a technical skill set.

“It’s not just, ‘Does a class teach me the skill that I need to get a job doing X, Y, Z, in data?’,” Hardin said. “In data science, we’re helping students understand that it is a whole broad way of thinking, and we should be educated in how to use data to answer questions and think about the world around us.” 

Economics and CS major Rishnav Thadani PO ’25 said if he could, he would minor in data science instead of majoring in computer science, as the major is difficult to complete and a “huge time commitment.”

He added that because the number of professors in the CS department is relatively smaller than that of other departments, it is difficult to get into classes.

Thadani also believes that data science is “slightly more applicable” than CS for some students, especially for those who are interested in working in finance or policy. 

Burns and Hardin said that the biggest source of tension for adding a data science minor comes from the college’s liberal arts commitment. Burns re-emphasized that the minor’s goal isn’t “teaching people a bag of skills for getting a lot of money when they graduate.” 

At the same time, Verrels Eugeneo PO ’25 noted that a data science background opens more job opportunities for students. 

Alumni from a variety of fields have voiced the necessity of understanding data to effectively communicate with and persuade people, according to Burns. 

She also noted how several alumni felt like they had to invest in an expensive graduate degree program to get a foundation in data, rather than just gaining the skills while at Pomona.

“A lot of alumni, those who came to appreciate data, talked [to us] about how the way [data science impacts life in lots of avenues. [They said] it was kind of a meandering process, and they wish they had been exposed to that early on,” Burns said. 

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