Different by Design, Distinctly Notre Dame: The Online Master’s in Data Science

Author: Staff

At a place as steeped in residential life and campus traditions as the University of Notre Dame, the considerations around creating the University’s first online degree program were never going to be just technological.

Was there a defined educational goal that would be difficult to meet using traditional tools? Would online students feel connected to the University? Could you deliver an authentic Notre Dame experience to students participating in the program from locations around the world?

It was these types of questions that those involved in creating the online master’s in data science had to ask themselves before announcing it in August 2016. The answer to all these questions, they thought at the time, was yes.

Seven and a half years later, there is no doubt.

“From the outset, we recognized that the online master's would need to be purposefully crafted for an online environment,” said Roger Woodard, a teaching professor in the Department of Applied & Computational Mathematics & Statistics (ACMS) and director of the program. “By embracing the distinct challenges working professionals face, our faculty and staff deliver a program that imparts rigorous content knowledge but also fosters a genuine sense of connection people expect of a Notre Dame experience.”

Built by Notre Dame Learning’s Office of Digital Learning (ODL), the online master’s was envisioned by the University’s Office of the Provost and College of Science in collaboration with AT&T, which provided a generous grant to help launch the program and continues to partner in its delivery. The idea was to give highly driven individuals already pursuing careers an opportunity to advance their skills in data science in response to industry need.

Add the rapidly expanding use of AI to the continued growth in big data, and the demand for professionals with those skills has only increased since the program’s founding.

Housed in ACMS in the College of Science, the online master’s in data science is delivered over 21 months at a half-time pace. This allows students to engage more deeply with their coursework, their professors, and their peers through both asynchronous (i.e., on-demand) and live sessions.

There are also exclusive immersion weekends that bring students and faculty together for study and networking as well as a capstone course that connects students with corporate partners to solve a data question by building AI and data science solutions.

If this sounds like the product of deliberate and intentional planning, that is no accident. In addition to members of ACMS, the program’s architects included faculty from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, the Mendoza College of Business, and the Department of Psychology. They worked with the ODL, which led learning design and media production efforts, and industry experts from AT&T to shape an online program that would meet the high standards of a Notre Dame degree.

The program has its own dedicated learning designer, Jade Liggett, who ensures pedagogical best practices continue to be reflected in the way its courses are organized and delivered. Associate Director Samantha Adamczewski serves as students’ 24/7 link to Notre Dame, working with them from the time they confirm their enrollment, through their studies, and then as their alumni contact.

“The level of personalized support Samantha provides every student makes this program truly exceptional in a crowded market space,” said Sonia Howell, the director of the ODL.

This May will mark the graduation of the sixth class of Notre Dame students to earn the online master’s in data science. Almost all online students attend and participate in the University’s in-person commencement ceremony, where they get to walk across the stage to receive their Notre Dame degree.

Commencement is not the first time they come to campus, though, with students traveling to Notre Dame for orientation in the fall of their first year. As for the immersion weekends, those are held in various places across the country.

It all adds up to alumni who, to borrow a phrase from the University’s strategic framework, are prepared to be “the humane, informed leaders the world needs,” no matter what time zone they call home.

“When I started the data science program in 2018, I expected to have great professors, challenging classes, and a supportive cohort,” said Annemarie Colino, lead data scientist at AT&T. “However, with a part-time, online program, it was a nice surprise to really feel like a part of the University community. I know the kickoff weekend played an important part: being on campus, learning through trivia games, getting our IDs, going on the football field. More importantly, the Notre Dame mission to ‘Be a force for good’ is woven through the curriculum, and I always felt like I was engaged in education, not just getting through a class.

“Thank you again for creating and leading a program that not only made me a data scientist but a Domer, too.”

Click the links to learn more about the online masters in data science program and Notre Dame Learning.


This article was a collaboration between Notre Dame Learning's Ted Fox and Notre Dame Data Science. 


Originally published by Staff at datascience.nd.edu on April 05, 2024.