TransUnion, the Chicago-based credit reporting agency, has funded the creation of a new professor position at the University of Illinois at Chicago in hopes of addressing a growing need for experts in the rapidly expanding field of data science.
The TransUnion professor of data science will be recruited through a national search and become a senior faculty member in the mathematics, statistics and computer science department.
The $500,000 endowment is the latest example of a company partnering with a university to enhance the pipeline of students interested in technology careers.
"We believe that the need to leverage both precise and broad data, generating usable insights, is still in its infancy," TransUnion President and CEO Jim Peck said in a statement. "While the idea of data science may not be new, the results of harnessing information are limitless."
By fostering a program at UIC, TransUnion said it hopes it can draw more students to study data science, which will in turn lead to advancements in the field.
The demand for data scientists, who work in a number of fields, from health care and finance to real estate and agriculture, has surged as more companies demand tech-savvy employees who can analyze and interpret data on everything from shopping habits and customer insights to sales trends.
This is a key area of growth for businesses because the more information they can learn about where, when and why a sale occurs, the better they can capitalize on that in the future. Analytics are also behind marketing that provides customer benefits, such as a section on an e-commerce site that features recommended products or emails that are generated based on browsing history.
But the demand isn't being filled fast enough with qualified young data scientists. Consulting firm McKinsey & Co. predicts a shortage of 1.5 million analysts and analytics managers in the United States this year.
And beyond a shortage of qualified young employees, companies like TransUnion have to work to build their appeal with that new talent, or they risk losing those workers to household names like Amazon and Google.
The demand at UIC for the school's two data science-related majors has surged as well. The number of undergraduates majoring in statistics jumped to 49 in fall 2017, up from just 15 in 2003. Undergraduate majors in mathematics and computer science jumped to 170 from 61 four years earlier.
Astrida Orle Tantillo, dean of UIC's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said the new professor "will bring a wealth of expertise to our Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science program, and support our goal of graduating well-rounded data science students who have the critical thinking, problem-solving and communications skills necessary to fill important industry gaps and meet future workforce demands." UIC already has about a dozen faculty members working in the area of data science.
Other Chicago companies have taken their own steps to lure top talent from college campuses to corporate offices. Riverwoods-based Discover said last week it launched a branded campus innovator program at Northern Illinois University that allows students to work on company technology like mobile software development and coding while still on campus. Other companies, like investment firm Citadel, have hosted student competitions to draw in top young tech talent.
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