UChicago’s Data Science Institute announces founding industry affiliates

Program connects companies with field-defining data science ecosystem, research collaborations

The University of Chicago Data Science Institute launched its Industry Affiliates Program with four founding core members from the sectors of finance, insurance and telecommunications: American Family Insurance, DRW Holdings LLC, Prudential Financial and Verizon Communications.

The Data Science Institute (DSI) is a UChicago effort defining the growing field of data science through research, outreach and education. The Industry Affiliates Program lowers barriers to collaboration between companies and academic researchers and students, connecting industry partners to groundbreaking data science research, emerging technologies and talent acquisition opportunities at UChicago.

“Data science is an inherently practical discipline. Its roots and many of its key advances began in industry, and a high-bandwidth dialogue between researchers and practitioners is crucial to its further development,” said Michael J. Franklin, faculty co-director of the Data Science Institute, Liew Family Chair of Computer Science, and Senior Advisor to the Provost for Computation and Data Science. “The new DSI Industry Affiliates Program will anchor collaborations with companies, from startups to large, established corporations, to work with DSI faculty, students and staff on research projects that expand the capabilities and applicability of data science and train the next generation of data scientists.”

Through the program, core affiliates receive opportunities for exclusive events, student recruitment, professional education and engagement with the field-defining UChicago data science research ecosystem. Industry partners also may provide projects for the UChicago Data Science Clinic, an experiential course at the heart of the new undergraduate major in data science. The DSI seeks additional industry affiliates, from startups to Fortune 500 companies, for future collaborations; more information is available on the DSI partnership page.

Founding partners include:

  • American Family Insurance, a Fortune 300 multi-line insurance company, has joined as an affiliate via its Data Science and Emerging Technology teams. This partnership will provide opportunities for students, faculty and American Family Insurance to collaborate on research and project work in the important field of data science, helping to create better, more personalized and more cost-effective products, services and experiences for customers.
  • DRW Holdings LLC, a diversified trading firm that utilizes its own capital and trades at their own risk. DRW brings sophisticated technology and exceptional people together to solve complex problems in markets around the world and across many asset classes. The firm is motivated to compete at the highest level and unified by a commitment to operate with respect, curiosity and an open mind.
  • Prudential Financial, a global financial services leader and premier active global investment manager, has joined as a founding partner. Prudential is leveraging data, data science and artificial intelligence to provide industry-leading experiences for employees and customers.
  • Verizon, a leading global provider of technology and communications services, offers voice, data and video services and solutions on its award-winning networks and platforms, delivering on customers’ demand for mobility, reliable network connectivity, security and control.

Collaborating on education and research

Joining the Industry Affiliates Program connects companies with the thought leadership of University of Chicago data science, offering the unique opportunity to collaborate with UChicago faculty and students on the most challenging and promising questions in this emerging field. One avenue of interaction is the Data Science Clinic, where partners provide projects that enable UChicago students to gain real-world data science experience while tackling data problems that are of great importance to partners’ businesses.

“It’s critical that data science students receive rigorous and practical experience applying data science and technology-based solutions to problems from industry and other partners,” said David Uminsky, executive director of the Data Science Institute. “These clinic projects also provide an entry point for deep, mutually beneficial research collaborations with DSI faculty and staff that expand the potential of data science in both industry and academia.”

Clinic projects with industry partners cover topics such as ethical uses of artificial intelligence, algorithmic trading, communication network performance, and the effect of climate change on the insurance industry. Founding partner Prudential Financial participated in the inaugural offering of the Data Science Clinic last fall, sponsoring a team developing an ethical AI framework using public financial data. UChicago students worked with Prudential data scientists on building the framework, quantifying the ethics and economic and social impact of how companies use AI.

“Data science is going to be integral to solving many of the societal issues we will face in the future,” said Kjersten Moody, chief data officer at Prudential Financial. “We looked at a number of different institutions to potentially partner with, and the University of Chicago stood out because of its multidisciplinary approach to the topic. It’s not the mathematical skills or the computational skills that will take a practitioner of data science to the leading edge of this field. It is the interdisciplinary approach and the ability to ask questions and to see problems from multiple perspectives.

“Diversity of thought matters, and that’s why we are seeking talent that shares our appreciation for seeing things through the eyes of others.”

These collaborations allow industry partners to supplement their internal data science teams with outside support and perspectives, enlarging their capacity to experiment with new ideas. They also give students a window into a data science career, learning how companies build and use these tools internally.

“I knew that if I was going to commit to pursuing data science, I wanted to gain as much skill-building and hands-on experience as possible,” said recent UChicago alum Alex Hayward, SB’22, who worked with Prudential and subsequently took a job with the company. “The data science clinic was one of the most formative parts of my data science education, and has definitely prepared me for the field.”

As the Industry Affiliates Program expands, partners will be able to join DSI research initiatives in Internet EquityAI + Science and Data & Democracy, as well as help shape new initiatives in areas such as the impacts of climate change and the economics of data.

By participating in DSI activities, companies directly work with and hear from leading UChicago faculty in data science, computer science and statistics, as well as experts in fields such as economics, physics, medicine and computational social science. These academic-industry partnerships will set the intellectual agenda for the field of data science: defining its foundational principles, advancing innovative applications and anticipating its ethical and societal impacts.

“We have established partnerships, both locally and nationally, to build data science as an equitable and ethical field at the outset,” said Prof. Dan Nicolae, faculty co-director of the Data Science Institute. “Our hope is to bring data science expertise to industry, non-profit and social impact organizations on the ground, amplifying their work in many different areas.”

“The University of Chicago has a proven history of driving financial innovations all while connecting data science students with leading firms across Chicago,” said Dennis Cue, global head of talent development for DRW. “We are excited to work with the Industry Affiliates Program where we can provide our own mentorship and expertise to the next generation of data science engineers in the city. It’s crucial that we continue to invest in the students and resources that can make Chicago an intellectual hub for financial innovation.”

—This story was first published by the Data Science Institute.