Introducing Data X

According to government estimates, there will be 1.4 million new jobs in computing by the year 2020. However, only 400,000 college graduates will be qualified to fill them.

Through a new university initiative, Lehigh aims to ensure that its graduates are better equipped to fall within those ranks.

On Wednesday, Interim President Kevin Clayton and Provost Patrick V. Farrell announced the launch of Data X, a strategic university initiative that will significantly expand Lehigh’s capacities for teaching and learning in computer and data science, while increasing access to such courses for students, regardless of their major. Data X will see Lehigh recruit and hire new faculty in computer science and related fields, infuse the concepts of computer science into areas of study across the university, and position Lehigh as a leader in an increasingly essential field.

“Lehigh has long been a national leader in interdisciplinary teaching and research,” said Clayton. “Data X will build upon these strengths in an exciting and innovative way, at a time when computer and data science are shaping discovery and development in our economy, culture and society.”

Added Farrell: “To move Lehigh forward in a world where computer science and data analytics are becoming increasingly prevalent, we must make bold moves and focused investments. DataX will strengthen Lehigh’s already solid position as a national leader, enrich the student experience and develop in our graduates highly sought-after skill sets.”

Data X will be led by Daniel Lopresti, professor and chair of Lehigh’s department of computer science and engineering, who has served as interim dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science since July. Lopresti is a widely respected researcher whose work in fundamental algorithmic and systems-related questions in pattern recognition, bioinformatics and computer security has placed him at the forefront of his field.

“Computer science as a field has grown up over the past several decades to infuse basically every discipline that we have at Lehigh,” Lopresti said. “Software and data impacts everything that we do now and is pervasive in business and industry as well.”

Student enrollment in computer science courses at Lehigh has increased 163 percent over the last five years. With its investment in Data X, Lehigh will be better able to meet this rising demand and help students gain a competitive advantage in a market where more and more employers rely on computer-science competency.

The broader goals of Data X are to build upon Lehigh’s existing core of computer science, develop relevant connections across the university’s four colleges and support cutting-edge research in a variety of fields. At the core of the initiative will be an effort to expand Lehigh’s faculty working in these areas. 

Through Data X, the university anticipates an expanded faculty in computer science and related fields. These new hires will increase the availability of computer and data science courses to students from a wide range of disciplines. They will join an already distinguished group, which includes six faculty members who have received the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) CAREER Award. 

“The market now for computer science is incredibly aggressive,” said Lopresti. “A strategic initiative like this is exactly what we need to go out into the market and compete for the very best talent that’s out there.”

Beyond the interest and enthusiasm of its students, Lehigh is uniquely positioned for this type of initiative. Its location between Philadelphia and New York places it in the center of an area of rapidly emerging innovation and presents an opportunity for partnerships with regionally based companies that have global reach. In addition, Lehigh’s long-standing commitment to interdisciplinary studies and research provides a natural environment for students of all backgrounds to learn and utilize the most recent technologies and methodologies within data and computer science.

“What we have [at Lehigh] is an amazing amount of academic flexibility, where our students don’t have to limit themselves to the classroom to get experiences with their faculty,” said Michael Spear, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering and NSF CAREER award-winner. “We can do great research together between our undergraduate students and our professors. And that means that we can foster a sort of intellectual curiosity among our students and use their amazing energy that they bring to be able to tackle problems.”

According to Jack Lule, professor and chair in journalism and communication, technology has always been transforming journalism. Incorporating digital media into Data X is a logical step.

“The biggest thing that’s happening within journalism right now is what’s happening at Lehigh,” said Lule. “The disciplines are coming together and different groups are working on the same problems. And I think the most interesting questions and the most interesting answers are coming at the edges of these disciplines. And so what we’re doing within journalism is reaching out to our colleagues in computer science and in business to try to work together on these problems.”

Data X will also help shape how Lehigh approaches marketing analytics, bioengineering and, eventually, other fields as well.

Vassie Ware, professor of biological sciences and co-director of Lehigh’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute Award, said: “Advances in life science and biomedicine increasingly depend on the ability to manage massive data sets. Understanding computational approaches and their use in life science will be critical to prepare our students for leadership roles in fields that impact, for example, personalized medicine, development of new diagnostics and therapeutics, and modeling of biological processes. Data X continues our historical commitment to integrating disciplines to assure innovation in bioscience education that provides distinctive opportunities for our students."

Anand Jagota, director of Lehigh’s bioengineering program, said Data X arrives at a crucial time—one in which huge advances are being made in both data analytics and in bioengineering. Lehigh, he says, is well positioned to catapult itself to the forefront of these fields, and others, through Data X.

“Data X plays upon our existing strengths,” Jagota said. “It’s a natural way for us to proceed.”

To learn more about Data X, Lehigh’s accomplished faculty and stories of student success in these fields, visit the new Data X website.