The University of Virginia plans to use the largest private gift in the institution’s history to establish a school of data science.
“There’s no doubt that our future will be shaped by how we use data and how we allow it to be used,” UVa President Jim Ryan said. “To really take advantage of this new field, which is inherently interdisciplinary, this requires something more; not just a dedicated school, but a new model for what a school can and should look like. That’s exactly what we hope to create.”
UVa on Friday announced that the Quantitative Foundation would support the establishment of the new school with a gift of $120 million.
The Quantitative Foundation was founded in Charlottesville by Jaffray Woodriff and his wife, Merrill. The foundation previously donated $10 million to establish UVa’s Data Science Institute in 2014.
Jaffray Woodriff is the co-founder and CEO of Quantitative Investment Management, a private investment firm in Charlottesville. He has made investments in dozens of local startups and is the owner of the Center of Developing Entrepreneurs (CODE), a planned office building on the Downtown Mall that will be built on the site of the Main Street Arena.
Woodriff said he defines data science as “the broad science of using data and computers to better understand and adapt to the world around us.” “Responsibly applying data science is one of the greatest opportunities of our lifetimes,” Woodriff said. “Unfortunately, data science can and has been used with ill intention. I foresee the University of Virginia taking a lead role in addressing these types of issues.”
Ryan and Woodriff both thanked former UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan, who was in attendance at the announcement, for making data science a priority during her tenure and supporting the university’s Data Science Institute.
The Quantitative Foundation’s gift will support faculty and administration for the school as well as doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships, according to a UVa news release. The gift will also support a new building for the school and an endowed fund for visiting scholars from other schools and academic units.
Friday’s announcement in the Rotunda’s Dome Room included remarks by Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine; Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-5th; and Gov. Ralph Northam. “I am particularly excited about how well this new school of data science dovetails with the focus we have at the state level to train a new generation of Virginians for technology-related jobs,” Northam said. Northam announced in November that Amazon would establish a new headquarters in Arlington County and create at least 25,000 jobs there.
Phil Bourne, director of the UVa Data Science Institute, will serve as the acting dean for the school of data science.
Bourne said the school still is in the design phase and is pending approval from UVa’s Faculty Senate and Board of Visitors, as well as the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. He said UVa aims to officially open the school within three years.
Ryan said in an interview that he expects the school of data science to create jobs in Charlottesville and Albemarle County and to conduct research on issues affecting the area.
“Using data science is going to lead to improvements in healthcare and in education — two of the most important services that government provides,” Ryan said. “I think those improvements will be felt in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.”