Forging new paths with big data analytics

Is a new traffic pattern needed at 10th and Walnut? What could be the reason that a person chooses an Orange Julius over Jamba Juice? Big data analytics could most likely provide the answer.

With industries becoming increasingly reliant on the science and applications of pervasive data and computing, more and more Lehigh students are incorporating computer science courses into their curriculum. Preparing for this demand and for the increased need for graduates to be at the forefront of this technological era, Lehigh developed the Data X Initiative to allow students the opportunity to take computer and data science classes no matter what their major is.

Alumni and friends gathered on February 23, at The Down Town Club, Philadelphia, to learn of this strategic campus-wide plan and to hear from experts who discussed the transformative role that big data has in their own fields of healthcare and city planning. Panelists Stephen Klasko ’74, president and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health, and Allan Frank ’76 ’78G ’79G, chief IT Strategist and co-founder of the Hackett Group and partner in Liquidhub, answered questions from moderator Daniel Lopresti, director of the Data X Initiative and professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

“Lehigh’s own data shows that the student demand for knowledge in computer science is exploding,” said Lopresti, who explained that Lehigh’s Data X Initiative can foster students’ interests in computer science so they can adapt and contribute to this innovation.

While discussing the potential for Big Data in the healthcare industry, Klasko pointed out, “Amazon does a better job of figuring out what I need than my healthcare company.” Up until this point, he said, “ everything about healthcare has missed the data revolution.”

However, he added that the healthcare industry could use this new technology to personalize patient service by fully utilizing information on each patient to gain a comprehensive perspective of the patient’s overall health.

The same technology that can improve healthcare can also secure cities from various types of emergencies and improve the daily lives of citizens from the ability to efficiently locate a fire to correctly evaluating and preventing terrorist threats. Frank, who was Philadelphia’s first chief technology officer, commented on data analytics’ widespread applicability, saying, “All data is about the ability to bring it together for the value of humankind.”

Reflecting on the pivotal role of data analytics in not only improving the lives of citizens but also protecting them, Lopresti commented, “These are important questions for society as a whole. It’s not purely a technology question-- we need educated students who understand all of these elements.”

From a business perspective, Frank said that it’s critical that we ask, “How do we bring people in with the skills of data science and computer science? How do we link up with universities, and how do we start training these students?”

Lopresti explained that the Data X initiative is forging a new base of faculty whose knowledge encompasses the wide range of applications of data analytics. The initiative will first hire six new faculty members with computer and data science expertise and aims to hire an additional 12 faculty members as the initiative expands in areas that will allow cross disciplinary collaboration and ignite impact across campus. Target areas will be in consumer analytics, digital media, and connected health and life sciences programs – fields that are ripe to harness the power of big data.

Event attendee Andrew Sgarloto '13, who studied bioengineering at Lehigh and now works for IMS Health conducting pharmaceutical marketing and analytics, said he thought that the Data X Initiative was “invaluable” to the undergraduate experience. “We recruit from the Ivy League, and no one has a program like this,” he accentuated.

For those not as directly involved in data analytics themselves, the event was thought provoking. Chris Weth ’91G, who studied business administration and is currently a project manager for Comcast, said, “I’ve realized more and more that it’s an important and emerging development.”

Thinking about these questions while learning about Lehigh’s Data X Initiative and the ways it connects with data analytics practices was an intriguing experience for alumni.

As the data revolution spurs new possibilities, Steven Klasko remarked, “I applaud Lehigh for not just dipping their toe in the water but for jumping in.”

Story by Kelsey Leck ’16

Photos by Jim Harris

To view additional photos from the event, click here.

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