New UW-Madison school emphasizes computing and data

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- The University of Wisconsin-Madison has established a School of Computer, Data & Information Sciences (CDIS) in the College of Letters & Science and will partner with industries to provide them with an advantage in the latest technology.

"As technology becomes more pervasive in our world on all levels - from smart devices to algorithms shaping the global flow of information and commerce - it is critical that our university continue to lead in this field," says UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, according to a press release Wednesy.

"The new School of Computer, Data & Information Sciences is a place where top researchers will shape the way the world uses technology, and where Wisconsin's students can learn how digital-age tools enrich their lives and careers," according to Blank.

The new school will include the Department of Computer Sciences, the Department of Statistics and the Information School. Tech entrepreneur and UW-Madison graduate Tom Erickson has just arrived as the school's founding director. Kristin Eschenfelder, Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor and former director of the iSchool, is CDIS associate director.

Computer Sciences grew in recent years to be UW-Madison's most popular undergraduate major. Last year, nearly 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students were pursuing degrees in majors offered by Computer Sciences, Statistics and the iSchool.

Developing ever-better hardware and software has been the focus of computer scientists and engineers for 50 years, emphasizing growth in the collection of data and the rise of data science in almost all aspects of society.

The assembly and application of big data has created challenges - issues of privacy and ethics - that the new school will address. A home for CDIS in the College of Letters & Science allows programs to be developed with psychology, journalism and mass communications in mind.

"Every university has had to decide how to respond to the growth in these fields and growing demand from researchers and students excited about the possibilities it presents," says Eric Wilcots, interim dean of Letters & Science and a professor of astronomy. "The needs of disparate fields like astronomy and history can drive advances in computer, data, and information sciences. Our core principle is that these disciplines are inseparable from the natural and social sciences and humanities."

"What we're doing is something unique across the nation, putting these three areas together in a public land grant institution," Erickson says. "We're taking three very strong programs and putting them together in a university that also has unmatched breadth and opportunities for collaboration in medicine, engineering, life sciences, nursing, education, and more."

CDIS can help the state add to its traditional strengths with a resurgence in startups in new areas of the economy.

"With partners in government and industry, we can connect people with new ideas to the support they need to turn those ideas into new companies," Erickson says. "We have a chance to create a strong ecosystem of innovation, to create jobs and bring significant recognition to Wisconsin as a place where entrepreneurs thrive."