UT receives $1.5 million award to establish new data science institute

Jennifer Xia

The University received a $1.5 million National Science Foundation award to establish a new institute for data science.

The Transdisciplinary Research in Principles of Data Science award will work toward bringing together the computer science, electrical engineering, statistics and math departments to work on foundational problems in machine learning, said Adam Klivans, computer science professor and co-author of the grant. Machine learning is the process by which a machine learns to perform tasks with little human intervention using data patterns.

“It will be a hub for machine learning education on campus so people can learn the basics of algorithmic machine learning or more advanced things,” Klivans said.

According to the National Science Foundation, the three goals of the institute are developing an algorithmic theory for deep learning, making machine learning robust and devising new methods using graph algorithms. 

The institute will soon have a website as part of the grant’s initial stage, said Sujay Sanghavi, electrical and computer engineering associate professor and a co-author of the grant. At the end of the first three years, there will be a competition for a $10 million award, which would allow the institute to have its own physical space.

Sanghavi said a large focus of the new institute is to provide more support for undergraduates such as those in the Machine Learning Data Science Club, which engages students from different disciplines in data science skills and techniques through workshops, corporate events and competitions.

“So far, (the club) has minimal faculty support, but going forward, we want to help these students succeed further,” Sanghavi said.

Having more computing power and better visuals from a more established institute would help the club create more tailored workshops, said Oishik Saha, chemical engineering junior and co-president of MLDS.

The new institute also aims to engage women and underrepresented minorities.

“We recognize (lack of diversity) is even a problem we have within our organization, so we’re glad it’s being identified at a higher level,” said Ryan McCray, computer and electrical engineering senior and co-president of MLDS.

As the only female officer in MLDS, Aarushi Ramesh said she wants to see more women participate in their competitions and workshops.

“Breaking those stereotypes in machine learning is a great step towards equal representation, and working with the institute to encourage participation in females and underrepresented minorities will definitely help,” said Ramesh, electrical engineering sophomore and media officer of MLDS.