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UIUC faculty bringing data science to Chicago public schools

UIUC Pioneers Data Science Education Initiative, Aims to Reach Millions Through DISCOVERY Platform

Attendees at the November 2023 workshop

In November 2023, Wade Fagen-Ulmschneider and Karle Flanagan spent a full day at the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) in Chicago, presenting an intensive workshop on data science to nearly 20 Chicago Public Schools curriculum designers. It was a hit with the attendees, but more than that, it was the latest step in an expanding, multi-year effort to bring data science to the masses—while also promoting UIUC as a national leader in data science education.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently projected that employment of data scientists will grow by 36% from 2021 to 2031, suggesting a need to attract many young people to the field. Fagen-Ulmschneider, who is a Teaching Professor of Computer Science, and Flanagan, who is a Teaching Associate Professor of Statistics, have answered that call by building a web presence called DISCOVERY that is designed both to raise awareness of UIUC’s world-class data science offerings, and to provide an accessible, free introductory data science education that anyone with a phone can use as a point of entry to the field.

Attendees at the November 2023 workshop.


Fagen-Ulmschneider said that a seed grant from DPI enabled their DISCOVERY website to launch in Summer 2021. The site makes the substance of UIUC’s STAT/CS/IS 107 course, Data Science Discovery, freely available online. “There’s no login, there’s no ads; it’s just totally free. The DISCOVERY resources contain extremely high-quality content and serve as the basis for our freshman-level course here,” he said.

“When we started DISCOVERY, we shared the vision that Illinois will be the national leader of undergraduate education in data science... Every time you search for basic data science concepts, it should be no surprise when Illinois is a top search result,” added Fagen-Ulmschneider. “A lot of our focus has been on... how do we provide high-quality content? After that, our ‘phase 2’ is, how do we get out there and let people know about it?” 

In pursuit of that “phase 2” goal, every summer since 2021, Fagen-Ulmschneider and Flanagan have partnered with DPI to run a 6-week summer experience as part of DPI’s Digital Scholars program. In each offering, 30 to 40 high-school students, guided by experienced UIUC teaching assistants, are taught a condensed version of the Data Science Discovery course content. 

Read more about how University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professors Wade Fagen-Ulmschneider and Karle Flanagan are ensuring that Chicago public school students have access to high-quality data science education here.


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