Data Science for Social Impact in Higher Education:  First Steps

Community College

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Harry S Truman College, a City College of Chicago

Story of the course

…the discipline presents an excellent opportunity to build pathways for students at all levels of academic preparation.

Harry S Truman College (Truman College) is a community college located on the north side of Chicago and is part of a district of seven individually accredited colleges. The institution holds two Minority Status Institution designations, HSI (Hispanic Serving Institution) and AANAPISI (Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution). As an HSI and AANAPISI, we focus on addressing the underrepresentation of minoritized individuals entering STEM fields. Each college in our District has a “Center of Excellence” focus area, and Truman’s is the Center of Excellence in Education, and Scientific Technology and Innovation. Traditionally, community colleges focus curriculum on one of two paths: career training or transfer preparation. Students in transfer paths can enroll in state-approved degree programs (Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees) to award junior status upon transfer to other state schools. The career path also has degrees but includes certificates of varying credit hours that prepare individuals for work in a specific industry. The efforts to bring data science to the college are directly connected to our Center of Excellence designation. However, we have been challenged to understand if transfer or career paths would be best for associate degree students. 

The growing data science discipline is a complex industry for community colleges to find its role within, and only a few programs have been developed. The field is emerging, and four-year and graduate programs are still developing. At the same time, the newness of the discipline presents an excellent opportunity to build pathways for students at all levels of academic preparation. A fast-growing field can prove challenging for community colleges to scale. In a partnership with UChicago, Truman and the University launched a preceptorship for data science. Preceptors have a joint placement at UChicago and Truman College. They instruct at both institutions and support Truman’s faculty in developing a curriculum for data science. This support allowed us to think about data science as a course and have the support within our department to begin building. 

 We focused on building a path and a course that would support employability while keeping transfer opportunities available. Since the curriculum approval process is long, we first developed a three-credit hour elective course for students with credits left in their degree path. In partnership with UChicago, our jointly-appointed preceptors, and academic department leadership, we adjusted UChicago’s Data Science 118 course to launch a new course at Truman that would meet our needs of introducing data science to our students (see course description below). At the same time, we are working towards a more extensive analysis of the “type” of program we should pursue and how to scale for instructional needs and student interest. 

Inspiration to start the course

The course curriculum and program development is rooted in the college’s effort to support our students entering STEM fields while building towards innovative opportunities. Through the partnership with UChicago, and the preceptors, we built a course we call “299” that introduces data science concepts to students. This course also was inspired as a way to test our student interest in studying data science and to prepare students to apply for the co-curricular experience at the Data Science for Social Impact Summer program (DSSI). Students that successfully completed the 299 course were eligible to apply to participate in DSSI. 

Course Example

A-ha Moment

light bulb

In new fields, community colleges can be hesitant to jump in due to scaling challenges. Students, faculty, and partners are excited to come together and build new things. Building in exciting opportunities like the DSSI for students was an excellent way to spark their interest in the field, and engage with partners.

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