Meet David Mongeau, Director of UTSA’s New School of Data Science
David Mongeau calls himself an “accidental technologist”. As an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University, the director of UTSA’s new School of Data Science majored in poetry.
But at some point during his time in college, he started listening to people telling him he needed to follow a more practical career path, so he minored in data analytics and eventually got hired. by a high-tech company that launched him on his data science journey.
In January, Mongeau will welcome about 400 students to Texas’ first school of data science as founding director, a year after UTSA inaugurated the school that will anchor its downtown campus.
Leading visitors on a recent tour of the six-story unfinished building on Rue Dolorosa, Mongeau pointed to its open spaces, meant for collaboration between students and faculty, which will lead to “chance interactions” that will culminate in new ideas. and approaches to problems. The building includes 16 research labs, seven classrooms that can accommodate blended and distance learning, and a conference center that provides enough security for sensitive conversations with industry and government officials.
With the building ready to welcome students early next year, UTSA president Taylor Eighmy has described Mongeau as the “obvious choice” to lead the university’s school of data science. , given his background in technology and his experience leading other data science schools. The Boston native also earned a Master of Science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and a Master of Business Administration from Purdue University.
Diversity as a decoy
Mongeau came to UTSA from the University of California, Berkeley, where he served as executive director of the Berkeley Institute for Data Science, working alongside faculty director Saul Perlmutter, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics. Mongeau’s time at Berkeley, he co-directed the Translational Data Analytics Institute at The Ohio State University, where he helped grow the institute with 52 faculty at 12 colleges.
“The fact that we could steal it from Berkeley says a lot about where we were going with our intent here, and David could have gone anywhere in the world, given his background,” Eighmy said. “And he chose to come to San Antonio because he believes deeply in the mission and purpose of our university and what he can do in this space to advance equity and diversity and the appropriate use of data science globally.”
For Mongeau, the appeal of UTSA lies in the opportunity to have an impact on the diversification of the field of data science, not only regionally but nationally, by joining an institution serving Hispanics. The U.S. Department of Education defines a Hispanic-serving institution as a higher education entity with an undergraduate student population that is at least 25% Hispanic.
Of the approximately 400 students enrolled in the spring 2022 semester, 41% identify as students of color and 45% are women, according to the university.
“Our students are unique,” Mongeau said.
Eighmy agreed, noting that Berkeley and Ohio State are not diverse places where Mongeau thought he could have as much impact in attracting students of color and women into data science.
“They don’t have access to the depth and breadth of UTSA students, community and culture,” Eighmy said. “We’re sitting in the catbird seat here at UTSA.”
Since he started work in July, Mongeau has spent his time trying to recruit students for the four graduate programs and a doctoral program that the School of Data Science will combine, centralizing the degree programs that UTSA already offers into one. place to foster collaboration starting in January. Mongeau explains to them that data science applies to almost all fields of study. Pharmaceutical companies, municipalities and even Coca-Cola Co. want to use data scientists to ensure their success.
“Everyone is looking for people who understand data in its various forms, whether it’s audio, images or text,” he said. “It’s really important that universities start treating data science like we treat English composition. Each student should have a certain level of proficiency in English composition and a certain level of understanding of mathematics. We have to do it with data science.
UTSA plans to create an elective course called “data science for all” that would introduce the discipline to interested students and help them transition into this study or at least provide them with a foundation in data science.
“Data science is at the root of everything,” Eightmy said. “It is fundamental for health. It is fundamental for technology. It’s fundamental to politics, government, social science and the digital humanities, and it cuts through everything about society – societal benefits, the power of education, discovery.
Eighmy added that another commitment of Mongeau is to ensure that UTSA uses data science fairly across all disciplines. The university has already done some of that work, using data science to look for inequities in how two very different neighborhoods in San Antonio have recovered from pandemic-related struggles.
Data science in action
Wenbo Wu, chair of the Department of Management Sciences and Statistics at the Carlos Alvarez College of Business, collaborated with Ying Huang, associate professor of demography at the College for Health, Community and Policy, and Eric Shattuck, assistant research professor at the ‘UTSA Institute for Health Disparities Research, on a Research study to explore some impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on Jefferson Heights, a neighborhood on the east side of San Antonio, and Elm Creek, located on the north side.
The professors used two years of mobile positioning data collected via a device’s geographic location and survey data from the two neighborhoods to analyze the energy struggles, economic mobility and chronic health conditions of residents in each neighborhood. , comparing data from before and during the pandemic. They wanted to understand and compare the daily living habits of residents to see which neighborhoods have suffered the most from the pandemic and come up with some sort of solution to improve their quality of life.
Researchers found that residents of more economically disadvantaged neighborhoods like Jefferson Heights had a harder time meeting their basic needs, like being able to pay their mortgage, rent, and utility bills. They also found that while job loss varied little between the two neighborhoods, Latino households experienced higher job loss rates than white households.
Based on their findings, which the professors presented to the city of San Antonio, the researchers recommended that economic recovery efforts focus more on helping people of color — especially black people — with financial assistance. , vocational training and employment opportunities.
“Data science is powerful. It is a meaningful field with powerful methods,” Wu, a senior faculty member at the School of Data Science, said in a statement.
This is the kind of work that Mongeau wants to help foster at UTSA.
Mongeau said our awareness of data science has grown as our use of digital data – text, audio and image – has increased with the internet and social media becoming an integral part of people’s lives.
“Data science is knowing how to extract value from that data,” he said.
The term was first used in 1985, and a 2001 paper proposed it as a new domain, Mongeau said. It’s really about knowing how to analyze data using computational thinking, statistical analysis, and other methods.
However, Mongeau did not abandon his poetic beginnings. He sees poetry in data.
“If you think about it, one of those meta or macro statements about data is that it helps us better understand human nature, society, economics,” he said. “Poetry is the expression of human experience and tries to understand it.”