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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2014 / 07 

Computational Modeling and Data Analytics approved as new major for spring 2015

July 28, 2014

As an example of computational modeling and data analytics, mathematics professor Mark Embree uses this chart to show how 69 conspirators of the 9-11 attacks were networked together, from a graph of Valdis Krebs. The red/brown squares indicate a high level of networked connectivity, including strong links between the hijacking crews of the four aircraft that crashed in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia has approved a new major at Virginia Tech starting in spring 2015. Computational Modeling and Data Analytics will be an interdisciplinary major within the College of Science that brings together mathematics, statistics, and computer science, with support from application disciplines.

“Our program is unique because it draws together mathematical modeling, modern data science, and high performance computing,” said Mark Embree, professor of mathematics and one of the leads for the program. “In some applications, data is coming so fast we can’t even look at it all. We need people who can understand how to get the data, how to rapidly and accurately analyze the data, and how to create meaningful models from the data. This major will help students do that.”

Embree suggests that students from a variety of disciplines may be interested in the program, including those with a deep curiosity for understanding how the world works through the development of computer simulations and mathematical models.

“It’s about more than clicking a button,” Embree cautions. “We’re looking for students who want to go a layer or two deeper.  Modern applications require fresh algorithmic ideas, and we want [program] graduates to bring that extra degree of insight to the problems they tackle in industry or research.”

In addition to algorithm design and modeling, the major will also address important ethical considerations, ranging from data collection to the responsibility of a scientist to present clear and unambiguous explanations to those responsible for making public policy. 

“Mathematical models only approximate reality, yet they often carry great authority in public discourse," Embree said. "This places an important responsibility on the modelers. [Computational Modeling and Data Analytics] students will learn to appreciate these ethical considerations in the context of their own capstone application projects."

The major will be available for student sign-up in spring 2015 through the College of Science.