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Howard’s New Science Program is Training the Next Data Activists

Howard University’s Center for Applied Data Science & Analytics welcomes a cohort of 30 students to a fully online Master’s in Applied Data Science program which aims to use data as a means of solving social justice issues.

Data science is an interdisciplinary field that allows for the use of the scientific method, algorithms and more to extract insight and make data-driven conclusions to solve some of the world’s most complex problems. (Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock images)

Integrating data science with social justice is what Howard’s new Master’s in Applied Data Science graduate program hopes to accomplish. The fully online program intends to teach students how to use data to improve social and environmental conditions.

The program, which began this fall within the Center for Applied Data Science, aims to provide a new stance when it comes to considering the impact of data science on wider social issues such as health disparities, environmental injustice and economic disempowerment, according to the website

The program comes about after Howard University’s partnership with Mastercard, which included a $5 million grant that funded the center’s establishment. The partnership aims to drive “racial equity through data science,” according to Mastercard.

Amy Yeboah, Ph.D. graduate director of the Masters in Applied Data Science program, emphasized the uniqueness of the program’s standpoint within the data science field. Yeboah, who spent 10 years teaching African American studies at Howard, began to pivot her focus towards data science at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, being witness to the effects that it had brought to people like her. 

Seeing the impact of COVID on Black communities allowed Yeboah to gain a new perspective on the nature and implications of Artificial Intelligence. “I had seen that computer science, data science, AI specifically, was beginning to disproportionately impact Black and Brown lives, Hispanic lives and American lives,” she said. 

Nationwide, Black or African American data scientists make up 4.2 percent of the whole, according to Zippia, with White and Asian demographics making up a much larger proportion of the total at 64.2 percent and 18.8 percent.

The African American Studies professor went on to highlight a standout quality of the program which is that its faculty have diverse academic backgrounds. “My traditional discipline is African American studies, I have a Ph.D. from Temple University, I also have a Master’s in sociology,” Yeboah said. “I’ve always been someone interested in statistics and technology.”

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The teaching faculty come from a variety of different educational backgrounds and disciplines, Yeboah described. “We have a diverse faculty, diverse curriculum, and we are embedded in creating a community different from what exists right now in the tech world,” she continued.

The anonymously donated Sean McCleese Endowed Chair will be seated in the Center for Applied Data Science, according to The Dig. They note that the chair will be used to work with the university on matters of social justice and to support the center.

Three weeks into the program, many students agree that the program’s faculty provides an enriching sense of cultivation. Graduate student and chemical engineer Tamara Haye from Washington D.C. emphasized the switch from her specialized field to data science and analytics.

“I’m a chemical engineer, I’m not a computer science engineer. Those are two different things. It’s two different skill sets,” the Howard undergraduate alumna said. For her, learning the Python programming language has been the most difficult thing so far.   

The program’s courses consist of computation social justice, data storytelling and visualization, engineering and managing data-driven change, machine learning, and bias and ethics among many other courses engaging in issues concerning tackling sensitive issues.

Ronald Jackson Carter Jr., a first-year graduate student in the new program agreed that the classes are challenging. “It’s very intense and fast-paced, but I think that the resources and the help are equally supportive,” he said. The Mississippi native was the 45th Mister Howard University and is a Mastercard data science scholar. “You have a professor, you have PAs that are very knowledgeable, the department chair, Dr. A is very supportive.”

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“I think something that stands out the most is that it’s a diverse group of students,” he continued. “The program has new grads, it has people that have been in their careers for 12 years and are coming back trying to further their education, you have all these different people from different backgrounds, whether they’re starting out as computer scientists or sociologists.”

The program is held completely online because “It’s a global conversation that we want you to join from wherever you are,” Yeboah said. The program is 30 credits, including eight required courses, two electives involving data, an internship and a capstone. 

Haye added how being a 1996 alumna allows her to see the change at the university over time. “There’s been an expression and an allocation of resources that are unique to graduate students and the graduate programs,” she said. “I think now it’s just a matter of tapping into those resources.”

Copy edited by Alana Matthew


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