Despite the vast proliferation of big data, Scott G. Stephenson (Engr ’79) is keenly aware of how some people feel about it. “When they see an article about ‘machine learning,’ their eyes glaze over,” he said. Stephenson hopes this reaction will change with the “rising importance of data science in the university context.”
Stephenson, the chairman, president, and CEO of Verisk Analytics, a leading data analytics and risk assessment firm, and his wife, Beth, value the critical role data science plays in their lives. That, coupled with their deep affinity for the University of Virginia, was the impetus for their decision to fund the Stephenson Dean of the School of Data Science. The deanship provides support for a foremost researcher in UVA’s School of Data Science.
The Quantitative Foundation also contributed an additional $5 million toward the chaired deanship from its grant made in 2019, and UVA’s Bicentennial Professors Fund provided $4 million in matching funds.
The School of Data Science promotes cross-disciplinary research and education to solve large-scale challenges. Stephenson believes the school gives UVA the unique opportunity to carve out a distinct position in this growing field. “What I want to know now is can we go further faster?” said Stephenson.
Integral to taking the Data Science Institute to its next level as the School of Data Science is Phil Bourne, the inaugural Dean of the School of Data Science. As the NIH’s former chief data officer, Bourne is, in Stephenson’s opinion, the perfect candidate for the job. “No environment is more intense or in need of data science than health care, so his credential is just about the best anyone could have for this professorship,” Stephenson said.
Early on, Bourne and his colleagues at the DSI collaborated with the Darden School of Business to design an MBA/Master of Science in Data Science program. The dual degree aims to educate the next generation of technology leaders with the in-depth training and tools they need to turn data into action-oriented business insights. “This program will change the way top business leaders of tomorrow are thinking about data,” said Don Brown, founding director of the Data Science Institute.
“I would have been the first person to sign up for this degree—it’s so sensible,” said Stephenson. In fall 2017, thanks in large part to Scott and Beth Stephenson’s generosity, the first cohort of students took advantage of that coveted opportunity.