How a university is turning all students into data Don Juans

A Culture of Cooperation

Given higher education’s reputation for jealously guarded fiefdoms, a program built on the concept of interdisciplinary cooperation may sound risky, but Lopresti feels that it suits Lehigh to a tee. “The barriers between the disciplines—what prevent you from collaborating and working with students and colleagues across the whole university—are perceivably lower at Lehigh than at other universities,” he said. “It just happens to be in our DNA. This is not the first thing that we’ve done that’s interdisciplinary.”

This culture, adds Griffith, puts Lehigh in a prime position to develop the kind of binary students needed by employers today. “The interdisciplinary nature of our approach is what makes Lehigh unique,” he said. “Data X will allow us to leverage that experience to provide something that’s really needed in the marketplace—people who truly understand the holistic nature of working with data to solve real business problems and larger social problems.”

To hire qualified faculty for this interdisciplinary approach, Data X has established search committees whose composition is split fifty-fifty between faculty from Computer Science and Engineering and the participating department, be it Marketing or Journalism. “New faculty members have the option of being embedded in either department,” said Lopresti. “There’s also a possibility of a joint appointment between the two departments if that’s what the faculty member would like. We’re open to either of those possibilities.”

In the case of the consumer analytics initiative, two faculty members—one of which is yet to be hired—will cooperate from within their respective departments. “There will be a marketing person who’s interested in working with computer science and a computer science person who’s interested in the consumer analytics side,” explained Griffith. “The Data X initiative provides a bridge so we have more interaction with our computer science colleagues.”

Students will experience Data X in a variety of ways, not all of which have been fleshed out yet. “On a broader scale, we’re going to see new courses developed, of course,” said Griffith. “You’re going to see some guest lecturing, and maybe some courses jointly taught by faculty across departments.”

For Lopresti, it’s too early to tell whether Data X will lead to new types of hybrid degrees or certifications. “At the right time, we might sit back and say, ‘Yes, we need a new major, we need a new minor,'” he said, noting that the school is also considering professional masters degrees. In the short term, however, he is confident that students will have no trouble demonstrating to employers the skills they have learned at Lehigh. “Whether it’s a notation on their transcripts that says they should get a certain minor or a certificate that they’ve taken these courses, they’ll be able to tell their story to potential employers. Data X will make them a stronger candidate for the position in question.”

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