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How the Data Science Institute’s academic programs aim to build the next generation of skilled energy leaders By Janet Miranda

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It would be a major overstatement to dismiss the growing importance of data science in the future of the energy industry.

The Hewlett Packard Enterprise Data Science Institute (DSI), formed in 2017, is the University of Houston’s response to the rising trends by preparing students with the skills they will need to have an edge in the job search field. The Institute serves as a centralized hub, coordinating educational programs and serving as a catalyst for basic and applied research.

The methods are agnostic to applications. Different fields have large data sets whether it’s the energy field, finance, or healthcare. The methods we use are similar across these fields, so it’s important to emphasize how we interpret the data in their context. For this, it is essential to have subject matter experts, said Claudia Neuhauser Associate Vice President/Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Technology Transfer at the University of Houston and Interim Director of the Institute.

A certain level of knowledge in data science already provides a lead in the job search, but it will soon become a prerequisite for interesting and rewarding employment.

With that in mind, the Institute offers a 15-hour short course, teaching students to move from the basics to programming languages, data analysis, and parallel processing.

They also offer two certificate programs: High-Performance Computing, where graduate students learn to simulate large systems and materials; and Data Science in Engineering, available for current graduate students. DSI is also working to develop certificates specifically tailored for professionals.

“We continue to meet with the energy industry to discuss educational opportunities. We have worked together to identify a need to provide educational opportunities for their employees and they are interested in our graduates who are trained in this broad field of data science,” Neuhauser said.

The DSI, under Neuhauser’s direction, has aimed to smooth out the edges of a complicated field by acting as a point of contact for outsiders, engaging with the industry, and designing programs that offer flexibility and guidance as a hallmark of the program.

“We can work with industry directly, getting real data sets in the classroom, having employees come in the class and talk about the applications relevant to the industry. I have met with Hewlett Packer Enterprises, and they are interested in developing data sets that will be helpful in the classroom,” Neuhauser said.

Authentic data sets, she says, are difficult to use in the classroom and industry partners are needed to help with this. It’s very challenging to simulate data that resemble genuine large data sets prevalent in the industry.

The DSI has begun talking with energy companies, such as Chevron and ConocoPhillips, where they can work on enhancing the student’s technical skills with real data and project-based learning. Neuhauser emphasizes that it helps better prepare students for the workforce by providing them with hands-on experience before they graduate.

“That’s what I want to do in the Data Science Institute, to move those pieces which are more difficult to do for individual departments, like maintaining and developing relationships with industry and facilitating guest lectures along with other collaboration,” Neuhauser said. The DSI aims to meet the needs of the energy industry by training the next generation of industry professionals who will contribute to the Houston energy economy.

The DSI aims to build the program to the needs of the energy industry by training the next generation of industry professionals who will live and contribute to the Houston energy economy.

That’s a distinguishing factor of DSI, because many universities have data science programs, Neuhauser said. “The advantage we have here at the University of Houston is that we have a lot of industry connections. Oil and gas is a big part of the Houston economy, so we can tailor much more to the industry.”