With each year, big data science is becoming more vital to understanding and processing how we work. Big data describes the volume of information that swarms through a business’s day-to-day operations. Big data science analyzes this raw material for insights that could help shape a business’s strategy, optimize development of new products, recalculate risk and determine root causes of failures in near-real time.

It’s a study that is both rigorous and lucrative. And students hoping to make their career in STEM are turning toward the study of big data science.

Leave your mark

“Big data scientists and engineers are needed to provide appropriate knowledge to design, establish and secure this wonderful new world that is now our future,” says Dr. Richard A. Aló, dean of Jackson State University’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET).

“Engaging students allows them to see that what they do can have a major societal impact.”

In addition to becoming competitive for jobs in industry, government and military, Dr. Aló stresses that big data students and faculty invest time, talent and STEM knowledge into a variety of vital community causes: “We have faculty in biology and chemistry who study nano gold particles that are used as internal body sensors to detect cancers. Our civil engineers are helping design new levees for New Orleans.”

CSET’s program — at the only urban university in Mississippi headed by Interim President Dr. Rod Paige, former U.S. Secretary of Education — focuses on the idea that one of the best things for science and engineering is to engage with the community.  “Engage hands-on and early on. Engaging students allows them to see that what they do can have a major societal impact,” says Dr. Larry Smarr, a longtime collaborating partner with the college and founding director of the California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology.

The exposure gap

“Exposure is key for any student to gain an interest in STEM,” says Karmyn Norwood, vice president, Air Mobility & Maritime Missions International Programs at Lockheed Martin, a corporate partner which is investing in STEM programs for children as early as kindergarten. Norwood argues that parents and teachers must build student confidence in math and science from an early age. “If young students aren’t exposed and engaged [in STEM courses], they might develop a mental block and not do as well as they can.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, STEM jobs in the United States will increase 14 percent from 2010-2020. This accounts for millions of positions, yet similar data shows that 3 million of those jobs may go unfilled by next year, due to an increase in the skills gap.

Energizing young talent

CSET tackles this issue head-on, utilizing summer programs to beef up the STEM background of middle and high school students before they attend college. However, those programs are only the first steps in a pipeline of funneling young talent into the high research environment of big data.

“[Our program] is the only one of its type in the southeastern United States, where students can receive a B.S. in three years and an M.S. in one year,” said Dr. Jessie Walker, chair of the Department of Computer Science at JSU. “Hands-on input from our industry partners, including Amazon AWS, Apple, Inc., Entergy, DXC Technologies (formerly HPE), MasterCard, Indra Technologies, IBM and Oracle Academy is another notable distinction of what we offer.”

The big data science program’s multidisciplinary research gives students the real world, near real-time experience necessary to build confidence and to excel in the workforce.