Kanchana Samala’s mom saw her potential as a data scientist before Kanchana did. Her mom took a class and saw parallels between then high school-aged Kanchana who wanted to constantly learn new things and the field that seemed to never find the same story in data twice.
This month, Samala graduated with a UC Berkeley data science degree, a job at The Gap and a still insatiable desire to learn and make a difference. At her new job, she’ll help make fashion more inclusive using data science, a path sure to keep her on her toes.
“There's a lot of energy and focus on data science,” said Samala, who grew up in San Jose, Calif. “The retail space is a growing field for data science. It will be cool to help tell the story that's going to start being told.”
Several of the more than 900 Berkeley data science graduates this year, like Samala, said the field is a way for them to gain clarity about the ever-changing world. The keynote speaker at the undergraduate major’s commencement ceremony on May 18 at the Hearst Greek Theatre said this desire will help students contribute to society.
“In data science and more broadly – we see time and again: curiosity drives innovation,” said Google Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan. “The students who make the most significant impact are those who continue their curiosity and thirst for knowledge, ask the hard questions and are compelled by a deep sense of responsibility.”
Realizing the potential of data science
The graduation occurred the same day the Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society (CDSS), which includes the Data Science Undergraduate Studies program, transformed into a college. At commencement, the CDSS community celebrated becoming the first new college at Berkeley in more than 50 years.
The College of Computing, Data Science, and Society aims to educate the next generation of diverse, ethical leaders using accessible, inclusive and interdisciplinary curriculum. It is also using data science, computing and statistics with campus partners to develop solutions to society’s most pressing problems like climate change and healthcare inequality.
The college includes Data Science Undergraduate Studies, the Department of Statistics, the Berkeley Institute for Data Science, the Center for Computational Biology and the Bakar Institute of Digital Materials for the Planet. It shares the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences with the College of Engineering, the Social Science Data Lab (D-Lab) with the Social Sciences division and the Computational Precision Health program with UC San Francisco (UCSF).
“This will help Berkeley – and you – fully realize the potential of data science to benefit society,” Jennifer Chayes, associate provost and dean of the CDSS, said to the more than 600 data science graduates at the May 18 ceremony. “The students graduating today … made all this possible.”
‘A way of contemplating the world’
Joseph Gawlik, another data science graduate, is among those next-generation leaders. He earned a data science degree with a geospatial emphasis and plans to use it to understand and address climate change impacts.
Reducing his own carbon footprint is something Gawlik feels passionate about personally and tries to accomplish daily. As he worked to find his own niche at Berkeley, he felt centered making this part of his mission professionally, too.
“I veered away from what I thought others think would be cool and went to what I thought would be cool,” said Gawlik, who transferred from San Diego Mesa College, about finding his focus this year. “Geography is really fun [and] the maps you do are very applicable to humans … If I put a lot of time into climate change research, I'll be like, ‘I did something useful.’”
At the May 18 ceremony, Raghavan emphasized the ability to harness data science to help the public and develop a data-driven, informed citizenry. CDSS illustrates this societal shift and will help equip students across campus for this reality, he said.
This kind of change has happened before. The schools of journalism and public policy were the newest schools or colleges created at Berkeley before CDSS, added in the 1960’s. Now, Raghavan said, “high-quality journalism serves as an important defense against the threat of misinformation and forces that further authoritarianism.”
“In that same spirit, 50 years from now, we'll look back at a society transformed by data-driven decisions, many of which you will help guide,” said Raghavan, who is a Berkeley alumni and a member of the CDSS advisory board. Later he added, “What you’ve learned is a way of contemplating the world – a world that will always be changing.”
Raghavan urged students to use that skill as they leave their undergraduate years behind. He said, “So, as the world keeps changing, embrace it, and experiment. Question it, and critique it. Push yourself to lead, and continue to learn.”