Data analytics expert to lead degree program

Nairanjana “Jan” Dasgupta.A highly successful educator and researcher committed to interdisciplinary collaboration and problem solving, Nairanjana “Jan” Dasgupta has been named director of the Program in Data Analytics at Washington State University.

Dasgupta is the Boeing Science/Math Education Distinguished Professor in Mathematics and Statistics at WSU and an expert and practitioner in data analytics, the science of examining large volumes of raw data to extract useful information, such as patterns, correlations, and trends. She has been on faculty in mathematics and statistics at WSU since 1996 and was instrumental in establishing the interdisciplinary data analytics degree program in 2016.

She is also founding director of the WSU Center of Interdisciplinary Statistical Education and Research (CISER) and an elected fellow of the American Statistical Association.

“Dr. Dasgupta is an outstanding teacher and researcher who brings a wealth of knowledge, insight, and experience to the data analytics program,” said Matthew Jockers, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), which administers the program with the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture (VCEA). “She has collaborated with university and industry partners in a wide variety of fields to answer important questions and solve real-world problems. She will bring the power of her experience to the program and the classroom,” Jockers said.

“Her enthusiasm and strong engagement with students, collaborators, and colleagues make Dr. Dasgupta an excellent fit as the program’s director,” said Mary Rezac, VCEA dean. “With her leadership, I look forward to growing this important program to meet the need for trained workers in this globally high-demand field.”

Dasgupta’s vision for the data analytics program is “to equip students with the skills and competency to tackle pressing problems in any arena and to become conduits between the non-tech world that generates the data and the tech world that analyzes it,” she said. “With data analytics courses available on the Pullman, Vancouver, and Everett campuses and online through WSU’s Global Campus, I want our students to feel connected to the program and faculty no matter which WSU campus they call home.”

Advancing knowledge in fields from agriculture to anthropology, economics to ecology, natural resources to nutrition:
Dasgupta’s research interests include bio-informatics and genomics, optimal design, logistic distribution, and large-scale multiplicity. Applications of her statistical methodology have helped Washington apple growers design effective harvesting strategies, and her mathematical and statistical models have informed projects from road construction to research into maternal milk production.

She has collaborated with scientists examining morphological deformities of aquatic insects in two Pacific Northwest lakes and, last year, she worked with the Washington Department of Ecology to model and predict levels of heavy metals in areas affected by many years of mining and pollution.

“My forte is finding mathematically sound but feasible, practical solutions to real-life problems,” she said. “I love helping students and others solve complex questions, especially where large and often-complicated datasets are involved.”

In addition to teaching full time and conducting high-level research on statistical methodology, Dasgupta has been an advisor for more than 60 master’s and doctoral degree students in math and statistics. She also has advised graduate students in several other fields, including marketing, machine learning, anthropology, sociology, and economics.

In 2018, she received the CAS Award for Excellence in Graduate Mentoring and Advising. In 2019, she received a WSU President’s Award, which recognizes individuals who advance leadership and engagement at WSU and beyond, and who demonstrate exceptional service to students, the University, and wider community.

Dasgupta’s appointment as data analytics program director began Jan. 1. She succeeds Nella Ludlow, who oversaw the program’s first graduates and was instrumental in building important connections with industry partners, Jockers said. Ludlow taught data analytics at the WSU Everett and Pullman campuses and is now an adjunct professor of computer science at Wright State University.

A fast-growing field with graduates in high demand
Data analytics (DA) is a fast-growing field worldwide. DA tools and techniques are used by many different industries to create, manage and analyze large, complex datasets in order to evaluate past performance, predict future trends and inform operational decisions.

The core curriculum and multiple specialization tracks in DA at WSU help students develop technical skills and knowledge within an application area as well as skills in communication and teamwork. Core classes for the bachelor of science degree are offered jointly by the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in CAS and the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in VCEA.

Top image: Jan Dasgupta

By Adrian Aumen, College of Arts and Sciences