Data Science Minor Student Profile: Stefan de Villiers

By: Louisa Gaylord

The University of Washington hosted the Data Science Minor Showcase several weeks ago, an event for undergraduates to explore the curriculum offered as part of the Data Science Minor program that was launched in Fall 2020. The showcase featured UW faculty outlining the new courses they have developed for the Minor, personal experiences from students who are currently enrolled in the minor, as well as smaller breakout sessions for participants to learn more about possible pathways towards data science from their areas of interest.

One of the students who shared their experience with the Data Science Minor program was Stefan de Villiers, a UW senior who is majoring in Economics in addition to minoring in both Data Science and Mathematics. Stefan explains how data science complements and enhances his other areas of interest: “Data science skills are among the most important in the toolkit of the modern economist,” he says. “As one of my professors pointed out, we live in a big data era and we must have the technical skills to adapt to that reality.”

The showcase event kicked off with introductions from Director of the Data Science Minor Ben Marwick,, and eScience Institute Director and Associate Vice Provost for Data Science Andrew Connolly. Faculty members shared how data science can be used in a multitude of fields within and beyond STEM, including Geography, American Ethnic Studies, Astronomy, and English. UW Provost Mark Richards also shared his thoughts on the increasing importance of data science in non-STEM disciplines. 

Data science involves a suite of analytical tools and techniques that can be applied and adapted for use in any field of study. “A map built from the most accurate data points still varies greatly depending on the elements that its maker chooses to include,” Stefan says. “Any meaningful data science work depends on a responsible approach to the dataset and the messages that can be drawn from it.”

Stefan de Villiers sharing his experiences with the UW Data Science Minor at the showcase event in November.

While presenting his first-hand experiences of the Data Science Minor, Stefan discussed how the exponential growth of datasets in recent years has made data science  essential for many industries that use astronomical amounts of data. “So why data science? Because we live in a world of big data,” he says. “Many of our datasets today have hundreds of billions of observations and millions of features. Most everything around us can be quantified and collected.” As the amount of data continues to grow, it becomes increasingly helpful to have experience with programming languages like Python and R to assist with analyzing and modeling the data and making sense of it.

The goals of the Data Science Minor Showcase event were to spread the word about the program to UW undergraduates and to make data science more accessible and widespread on campus, especially to students in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. “Data science comes in many different shapes and sizes!” says Stefan, “You will learn skills that make your studies richer and help you to tell better stories with the data you come across.”

Do yourself a favor and explore all the different classes in the data science minor. You might be surprised by everything that’s out there for you to learn!