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MassMutual Partners with Colleges on Women in Data Science Program

SPRINGFIELD — In an effort to create a strong pipeline of qualified women professionals in the rapidly growing field of data science and related subjects, MassMutual announced it is partnering with Mount Holyoke College and Smith College to pilot a groundbreaking, higher-education initiative: the MassMutual Women in Data Science program.

Aimed at providing a deep undergraduate education in an increasingly in-demand specialty, the partnership furthers MassMutual’s efforts to create and implement a comprehensive data-science curriculum, and underscores the company’s commitment to developing a strong core of data-science capabilities in the Pioneer Valley. The field of data science draws on statistical methods to answer questions in an array of disciplines in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Graduates work in fields ranging from medicine and environmental science to actuarial professions and statistics.

“This initiative speaks volumes to the importance we place on developing smart, new talent in the emerging field of data science,” said Roger Crandall, chairman, president, and CEO of MassMutual. “MassMutual is proud to partner with these two outstanding colleges to further the advancement of women in this exciting and important discipline.”

The $2 million, four-year program, which will begin in the fall of 2015, will be funded exclusively through MassMutual, and will provide Mount Holyoke and Smith with resources to hire five visiting faculty positions, as well as support the development of a data-science-focused curriculum. The faculty would teach in such areas as natural language processing, machine learning, behavioral economics, applied statistics, and various computer science specialties. Additionally, students in either of the two colleges will be able to take courses with any of the associated professors.

Instructors at both Mount Holyoke and Smith noted that students at liberal-arts colleges who are pursuing studies and research in fields such as computer science, mathematics, and statistics are increasingly seeking to connect their technical skills directly to real-world challenges and events.

“Mount Holyoke College is committed to educating a talented and diverse group of future women leaders, and to innovation in this emerging field, a field that is all about asking the right questions, identifying patterns, generating narratives from those patterns, and responding ethically to the challenges posed by data,” said Sonya Stephens, Mount Holyoke’s vice president for Academic Affairs and dean of Faculty. “This partnership with MassMutual offers a tremendous opportunity to connect liberal learning and the Data Science initiative at the college to opportunities that exist in both the academy and the workforce.”

Added Smith College Provost Katherine Rowe, “Smith has long been known for educating women who lead in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. This collaboration will enable Smith to explore new directions in an emerging discipline where we are seeing increasing excitement among students. It creates opportunities for Smith students and will significantly expand the pool of talented women leaders in this field.”

The MassMutual Women in Data Science program follows closely the August 2014 creation of the Amherst-based MassMutual Data Science Development program. The cutting-edge effort furthers the company’s commitment to the advancement of data science, with a particular emphasis on building a critical mass of this talent in the five-college area, which, in addition to Smith and Mount Holyoke, includes Amherst College, Hampshire College, and UMass Amherst.

The current MassMutual data science program looks to hire between five and 10 recent graduates annually from top colleges in the fields of math, computer science, and statistics. Over a three-year period, the new employees are provided a combination of coursework, applied projects within MassMutual, and training, all of which are the equivalent of a post-graduate degree. Professors sponsored as part of the Women in Data Science program will support this program by teaching various related courses to the development group.

“Our long-term goal is to develop a team of data scientists in the region, leveraging the already-strong programs these schools have in place in math, statistics, and computer science,” said Sears Merritt, chief data scientist for MassMutual. “Through our partnership with Mount Holyoke, Smith, and other schools in the region, we are confident that the Pioneer Valley will be a tremendous source of young, talented data scientists.”

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