D-Lab Receives NSF Grant to Support Evaluation and Expansion of Berkeley’s Data Science Education Model


D-Lab's David Harding and Claudia von Vacano welcome newcomers to data science with the message It's ok not to know (IOKN2K) .

November 5, 2019

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded UC Berkeley a $3 million grant to evaluate and expand its data science curriculum to ensure it is accessible to a broad range of students. David Harding, Faculty Director of the Social Sciences D-Lab, will oversee the Improving Undergraduate Stem Education (IUSE) project, titled “Undergraduate Data Science at Scale.” The grant will be used to implement, scale, and propagate a new model for undergraduate data science education through a collaboration between UC Berkeley’s Data Science Education Program (DSEP) and two partner institutions with diverse student bodies, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and Mills College.

A multidisciplinary group of seven faculty will lead the project. The group includes Harding; Cathryn Carson, Co-Principal Investigator and DSEP faculty lead; Cathy Koshland, Vice Chancellor of Undergraduate Education; Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, Associate Executive Dean for Diversity and Inclusion in the College of Letters and Science; David Culler, Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences; Elizabeth Wade, Associate Provost for Curriculum Development at Mills College; and Vandana Janjea, Professor of Information Systems at UMBC. A team from UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science led by Dr. Lynn Tran will provide an external evaluation of the project’s outcomes at all three institutions.

The project will draw on and contribute to contemporary research on best practices in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, as well as strategies for promoting the success of underrepresented minorities (URMs), first-generation, and women students in STEM. The project faculty will build on the findings to design curricula and develop educational practices that engage, motivate, and promote learning among all students.

Data science represents a new type of literacy and we want to make sure that no one is being left behind. 

- D-Lab Executive Director Claudia von Vacano

“Data science represents a new type of literacy and we want to make sure that no one is being left behind. Rather than being exclusionary or becoming a barrier, data science should serve as an empowering toolkit that can really engage and motivate students from every part of this campus,” said Claudia von Vacano, the Executive Director of the D-Lab. “What the D-Lab brings is this ethos of ‘it’s okay not to know’ and everyone is welcome into this space, breaking the norms of sink-or-swim educational practices where you’re expected to make it along with everybody even though you don’t have similar privileges.”

The first two years of the project will be dedicated to the evaluation and refinement of the UC Berkeley Data Science Education Program. The remaining three years will focus on propagating this model at Mills and UMBC. Elements of the prototype include modules that “push-in” data science to the existing curriculum, the zero-prerequisite Foundations of Data Science (Data 8) course, and Discovery projects that provide students the opportunity to apply data-science skills in real-world situations.

“I’m so incredibly privileged and excited to work in an area that is a deep passion of mine, to bring these tools and methods to a wide range of students, empower and excite them and enrich their research and their practices,” said Vacano.