Posted on UVAToday | By Meg Evett
The University of Virginia’s newly established School of Data Science has received a $3 million gift from Scott and Beth Stephenson to support the establishment of the Stephenson Dean of the School of Data Science.
This endowed dean’s chair in the School of Data Science will be funded by a combination of commitments totaling $15 million by the Stephensons and the Quantitative Foundation, which gave $120 million to establish the school earlier this year. The gift from the Stephensons, longtime supporters of the University, will match $3 million the couple gave in 2014 to the school’s predecessor, the UVA Data Science Institute. The Quantitative Foundation will contribute an additional $5 million toward the chaired deanship from its grant made earlier this year, and UVA’s Bicentennial Professors Fund will provide $4 million in matching funds.
“This is a momentous time in UVA history. I want to thank the Stephensons for their gift and their continued investment in the future of the University, our faculty and staff, and our students,” UVA Provost Liz Magill said. “Through this endowment, we will equip our graduates with the knowledge and experience to become pioneers and leaders in the digital future, and we will provide the dean additional resources to invest in research, education and service to build a world that is more innovative, more ethical and more just.”
Scott Stephenson is the chair, president and chief executive officer of Verisk Analytics, a leading data analytics and risk assessment firm. A graduate of the UVA School of Engineering, Stephenson said he recognizes the importance and growth of data science across domains.
“Data science is an area of knowledge that stands right alongside others such as empirical scientific observation, history, medicine and law,” Stephenson said. “And like these other categories, data science is powerfully influential when taught as a discipline and applied thoughtfully. It is also the newest and most rapidly expanding category of knowledge in today’s world.”
Stephenson has been engaged with the Data Science Institute since its founding in 2013, and serves on the Data Science Board alongside Jaffray Woodriff and other data science leaders. Woodriff, a 1991 graduate of the McIntire School of Commerce, is trustee of the Quantitative Foundation and co-founder and CEO of Quantitative Investment Management.
As a professional working in the field and an advocate for bringing data science into domains across the higher education landscape, Stephenson said he strongly supports the interdisciplinary and collaborative vision for the school.
“This transformative gift from the Stephensons shows a commitment to the future of the School of Data Science and an investment in strong leadership to help the school grow and thrive,” said Philip Bourne, the school’s founding dean. “Their continued interest and the growth of their initial commitment to this new stage in data science at the University will help us lead the way in education and research in this constantly evolving field.”
From 2017 to 2019, Bourne served as Stephenson Chair of the Data Science Institute, and the Stephensons’ previous support was instrumental in recruiting Bourne to UVA.
Stephenson has long been a strong proponent of rethinking how data science can expand at the University, across the Grounds and beyond. He has partnered with the School of Data Science through a Data Science Excellence Program that trains Verisk employees in modeling, visualizing and interpreting data.
“Our company, Verisk, sends about 30 of our leading executives annually to the School of Data Science for what we call a week of ‘Data Analytics Bootcamp,’” Stephenson explained. “We do this so that our leaders are in touch with the most recent developments in the field. The School of Data Science is a perfect partner for our company.”
Stephenson said he looks forward to the continued growth of data science at the University as a place of forward-thinking research and teaching.
“We are really excited about the evolution from the Data Science Institute to the School of Data Science,” he said. “This will permit UVA to grant undergraduate and Ph.D. degrees, in addition to the Master’s in Data Science currently offered. The school will position UVA to recruit the very top faculty in the field and to support highly engaged post-docs and research fellows.
“The expanded scale of the school will help fulfill the vision of data science as a domain of knowledge reaching across all parts of the University,” Stephenson said.