Howard University teamed up with Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth to launch the Center for Applied Data Science and Analytics. (Shutterstock)

By Briana Thomas,
Special to the AFRO

Howard University is a recipient of a $5 million grant that will support the creation of the college’s new center for data science aimed at driving racial equity in economics and healthcare, according to an announcement submitted to the {AFRO} on Jan. 25.

The funding from Mastercard’s philanthropy program, Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, will aid in the launch of the University’s Center for Applied Data Science and Analytics (CADSA).

Mastercard’s senior vice president for social impact at the Center for Inclusive Growth,  Salah Goss, said the data science project has been in the works for five years.

“For the last five years, the Center has prioritized creating the field of data science for social impact. Data is embedded in nearly every facet of our lives and ensuring it is used responsibly and positively impacts society’s most pressing issues is paramount,” Goss said on Jan. 25. “Howard University is taking a novel approach to addressing data science research by investing in a new generation of professionals who can combine the rigor of science with broader societal impact.”

CADSA will spearhead training the upcoming generation of data scientists in social impact research and analyzing racial biases in financial services, research that Howard University leaders said will significantly impact minorities.

“Black communities face unique challenges and algorithmic bias in financial services and specifically with credit decisions, and CADSA will conduct research examining how data science can contribute to minimizing racial bias in credit approval processes,” according to the University.

These goals will be exercised through two initiatives: 1) the Data Science Faculty Cluster Hiring Initiative and 2) the formation of a new master’s degree in applied data science, Dr. William Southerland, interim director of CADSA, told the {AFRO} Jan. 27.

Southerland, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and principal investigator of the HU Research Centers in Minority Institutions Program, said the hiring cluster will expand the data science footprint.

“It is important to hire more because we want to increase the data science talent on campus,” Southerland explained. “A good way and a quick way to do that is to recruit people from the outside who already have the skill set to be on the faculty.”

The new academic offerings will be extended to non-STEM students through the data science masters degree track. Southerland said expanding the new courses to STEM students, as well as to students who have different areas of expertise, will help achieve the goal of marrying technical data science with Howard University’s mission to serve the community.

“Data science occurs when data is converted into useful and actionable knowledge,” Southerland said. “This process works best for societal advancement when data is approached without preconceptions and knowledge is interpreted without bias. That is why diversity in the data science profession is so critically important, and it’s also why this Mastercard-Howard collaboration is destined to be very impactful.”

The specific class options will include studies in the fields of Black health and health disparities, social justice, environmental justice and economic empowerment.

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