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CIS 399 is a seminar-style course that covers the basics of manipulating data and analyzing patterns. | Courtesy of Pixabay

Imagine a list containing every single Wawa location on the planet. Such an enormous amount of information seems impossible to conceive — but soon, computer science students at Penn will begin to make some sense of it. 

This semester, the Computer and Information Sciences Department introduced a new course called "Special Topics: Foundations of Data Science." The course is seminar-style, meeting only once a week on Thursday for a three-hour block. Prerequisites for interested students are Math 240 or above and some significant exposure to probability.

CIS 399 covers the basics of manipulating data and analyzing patterns using today’s technology. Topics covered in the class include “machine learning,” or understanding how computers “think” and behave when tasked with performing certain tasks. In an email to current CIS majors, the department chair of computer and information sciences professor Sampath Kannan, described the overall goals for the course and its impact on students.

“This seminar will provide an in-depth introduction to data science through a rigorous mathematical and algorithmic treatment. Students will understand how mathematics, statistics, and advanced algorithmic design combine to form the dynamic field of data science,” Kannan wrote.

Data science has been a fast-growing discipline in the last decade, as increasingly sophisticated computers are able to handle more information at once, especially in the area of “big data" — data sets that are so unimaginably large that it would be impossible to conduct meaningful analysis by hand. Data scientists increasingly rely on computing algorithms to run such tests for them. 

Many CIS majors could benefit from such a class, as applications of data science can be found in many different fields. From pharmaceuticals to marketing, every industry now has access to amounts of data that they never could have had before, and in order to get as much information from this data as possible, they need experts who can “speak the language” of computers.

Engineering freshman Rohan Shah currently owns a startup called Slice Capital. Slice Capital attempts to provide “crowd-funded equity,” essentially allowing growing businesses to apply for capital from everyday people to fund their ventures. Shah believes that a class like CIS 399 would help him to develop his business.

“With something like equity, we’re essentially building new data structures that we’ve never worked with before. We need to be able to keep track of things like investments and consumer preferences every day, and I think this course would really help me learn how to do that,” Shah said.

In today’s day and age, the ordinary person has a massive amount of information at their fingertips; now, with courses such as CIS 399, computer science majors are starting to learn how to make the most of it.

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