Preparing for the next 330 years (letter)

In 2018, at the very first of what would become many listening forums on campus to help shape the framework for the university’s strategic plan, President Katherine A. Rowe asked the audience, “What is there any change in your discipline?

A faculty member immediately spoke up and emphatically stated, “Everything! »

At William & Mary, an institution now in its 330th year, we have a saying: “We change to preserve what we value most. As we know, you do not succeed over the centuries by closing ranks and not reacting to the way the world, the nation and the Commonwealth have changed. To educate for impact, a university evolves and does so within the framework of its core values.

From the strategic and intelligent use of technology, to the need for fluidity of data across disciplines (and yes, that includes liberal arts institutions) and to the changing modes of online and in-person instruction, Universities have observed, and some are embracing, what employers expect of graduates in today’s rapidly changing workforce.

The concept of expanding the university’s offerings in computer science, data science and applied sciences, detailed in a November 3 article, is not new. W&M’s exploration of an expanded presence is a direct result of faculty interest, established and growing student demand and Commonwealth needs – all of which are long standing. In 2019, for example, the Student Assembly submitted its own report advocating a greater emphasis on data fluency throughout the program (note that if you want to see how exceptional W&M students are, I recommends that you read this report). The initial concept for a new entity or school came organically from administration, computer science (the data science program is part of CS) and applied science faculty who are managing the surge in enrollment.

For more than a decade, student interest and enrollment in these and adjacent fields has grown exponentially at the university. Over the past 10 years, as we’ve added new degrees, interest in computer science fields has more than tripled at W&M, from 211 reported majors in just two fields (computer science and math) to 738 in six (computer science , Data Science, Mathematics, Computational and Applied Mathematics and Statistics, Business Analytics – Data Science and Business Analytics – Supply Chain). In the past two years alone, the number of computer science degrees has increased from 78 to 93. In the data science program, which just started in 2020, the number of degrees awarded has increased from eight in 2021 to 35 in 2022.

In the fall of 2021, during the “current planningFaculty, staff and students were invited to weigh in on the goal to “pursue a more vibrant and influential presence in engineering, computer and information sciences”. In February 2022, data (along with careers, democracy and water) was announced as one of the foundational initiatives that emerged as a result of the long and inclusive Vision 2026 strategic planning process.

Vision 2026 is not a blueprint and will evolve, just like W&M. It is essential that we continue to benefit from the engagement of the whole community as we chart the way forward together. The next phase will involve conversations and planning from across the arts and science community and beyond, as we consider how we can better meet student needs, develop impactful faculty-led research initiatives, and produce graduates who can meet the needs of the Commonwealth – while maintaining our pre-eminence in teaching the liberal arts and sciences. Ardine Williams, recently retired vice president of workforce development at Amazon and secretary of the W&M Board of Visitors, described last year on the Inside Higher Ed podcast The key the importance for graduates to have the professional skills necessary to navigate the intersection between data, science, ethics and the humanities. By combining data literacy with a rich liberal arts history, Williams said, research universities like W&M “are uniquely positioned…to create graduates who are supremely capable for today’s jobs and the jobs of tomorrow”.

As the article pointed out, William & Mary is at a significant inflection point. Adaptation, innovation, and flexibility are needed as the university evolves while remaining true to its heart and soul as a liberal arts university. This is the roadmap.

–Brian Whitson
Head of Communications
William and Mary

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