A $2-million commitment to Colby College is enabling the launch of a new initiative that will integrate data science into the curriculum across the disciplines, from social and natural sciences to the humanities. Students will work closely with faculty in developing, researching, and answering complex questions through data analysis and visualization, ultimately ensuring that they are able to become the next generation of leaders in the many fields that are increasingly using data to inform decision-making.
The gift, from founder, chairman, and CEO of financial technology firm MarketAxess, Rick McVey, also supports Colby’s remarkable women’s lacrosse team, on which both of McVey’s daughters played when they were students at Colby (daughters Lane and Grace McVey graduated in 2012 and 2016, respectively). Under the leadership of Head Coach Karen MacCrate Henning, the team has won three conference titles, most recently in 2017, and made eight NCAA appearances.
“We are incredibly fortunate for the vision and generosity of Rick McVey,” said Colby President David A. Greene. “He sees every day the importance of using the analysis of complex data sets to influence decisions, as well as the importance of teamwork and competition in the business world. His gift is making an immediate impact on Colby students, and the skills they develop here will serve them long after they graduate.”
Data Science at Colby
With the ubiquity of data comes an increased need to understand how to extract useful knowledge from it, which is influencing and advancing every industry—from health professions to financial markets—in significant ways. Colby students are exceptionally prepared to ask complex questions; this initiative will prepare students to be able to answer them.
“Data science is fundamentally about the creation of new knowledge,” said Provost Margaret McFadden, who has led a large group of faculty members from across the disciplines in developing the initiative. “It begins with asking the right questions, which has always been at the heart of what we do at Colby.”
Building on Colby’s strong foundation of undergraduate research, students from disciplines ranging from environmental studies and economics to psychology and sociology will take courses and engage in research projects with faculty. Student/faculty research projects will begin in the summer of 2019.
Graduates with these skills are increasingly important in all kinds of industries and research fields. “Data science is gaining such momentum that as savvy students consider fields they are also considering where technology is going in those fields and how that could influence their future careers,” said McVey, whose firm has hired several Colby graduates, including three from the Class of 2019. “We have found Colby alumni—from a variety of majors—to be exceptionally prepared to make important contributions to our business decisions.”
Colby is one of the first liberal arts colleges to offer interdisciplinary coursework and research opportunities in data science. The College plans to build on this foundation to create a larger-scale program incorporating leading-edge fields such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, and advanced data visualization.
Colby Women’s Lacrosse
McVey’s commitment includes $500,000 to women’s lacrosse, which has become one of Colby’s most competitive programs under Coach Henning. The team has made the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) finals in six of the last 11 years, winning the title three times. Henning is in her 12th season as head coach at Colby.
“This incredible gift will allow us to fully support our team as we continue to reach for the highest level of excellence on the field,” said Henning. “Our players are so deserving of this, and we are all incredibly grateful to Rick and the McVey family for their loyalty to the Colby women’s lacrosse program. We’ve been privileged to have Lane and Grace continue their involvement through Friends of Lacrosse and mentoring student athletes.”
Colby’s commitment to competitive athletics includes programmatic as well as capital investments, and alumni and parent donors have been critical to the College’s ability to support students at the highest level. All-new fields for lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, baseball, softball, football, and rugby have been introduced in the last three years; in 2020 its 350,000-square-foot athletics center will open, providing Colby students and the broader community with first-rate facilities for hockey, basketball, squash, volleyball, crew, swimming and diving, track and field, and general health and wellness activities.
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