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updated: 10/31/2016 11:08 AM

University sets course to connect students with big data jobs

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  • Photo courtesy Dominican University Yijin Gao, assistant professor of Dominican University's School of Information Studies, is heading up River Forest college's new Master of Science in Information Management program, designed to provide students training in the skills needed for the growing big data industry.

    Photo courtesy Dominican University Yijin Gao, assistant professor of Dominican University's School of Information Studies, is heading up River Forest college's new Master of Science in Information Management program, designed to provide students training in the skills needed for the growing big data industry.

 
 

Big data is the big thing, indeed.

As an industry, information management, storage and analysis had blossomed as business has become more comfortable handling its data in the cloud. Data companies have sprouted up and expanded throughout the suburbs, and with it the need for skilled, responsible workers.

Dominican University in River Forest has taken a big step in meeting that need with the development of a Master of Science in Information Management program, the first of its kind in the Chicago area and one of 11 such degreed programs nationwide.

Under the umbrella of the university's School of Information Studies (formerly known as the Graduate School of Library and Information Science), the program is organized around nine required core classes and three electives and offered in a hybrid format of classroom and online, targeting working adults who need to split time between job and school.

Yijin Gao, assistant professor School of Information Studies who is heading up the program, notes the master's program goes beyond the teachings of traditional information or library sciences program by focusing on the technological and critical thinking skills needed in today's world.

"The job market is booming for data and information management professionals," Gao said. "The industry needs a lot of people who have the cutting edge technology skills as well as the ethics and responsibilities that professionals need to finish data management tasks."

Gao said while classes in the past have taught how to sort and manage data, the program takes it one step further in teaching students how to organize, represent and analyze the data they are handling.

"The biggest challenge of big data -- this is unstructured data and in big amounts -- is how to we organize that data, where do we store it and how do we access the data, even before we can analyze it," Gao said.

"We train our students how to organize and represent this data, and then they can choose electives such as data analytics or information and data security," he added.

Moreover, Gao said, is that the program also teaches ethics and responsibility in the management of big data, highlighting legal and moral implications involved with managing large amounts of information and the companies that employ them.

"Our focus is on the human factors as well as the machine," he said. "We want our students to become an ethical information professional. They must know how to protect the interest of their organization and their workplace."

Gao said the courses will be taught by professors as well as adjunct staff who "are in the field and know the latest technologies, as well as market needs." Dominican is also tapping into its alumni base who have connections with large companies such as BP, McDonald's, Morningstar and BMO Harris.

"We have strong ties with potential employers in greater Chicago area," he said.

The program has 11 students enrolled this semester, and Gao expects that number to grow as more find out about its potential. Given the curriculum track, graduate students could receive their degree in 2 years, or receive certification is as little as four semesters.

In addition to the graduate program, Dominican also launched an undergraduate program in informatics where students learn to design and build information systems that solve problems, as well as gain an understanding of the ethical and policy implications related to the world of big data. The program offers specialties in cybersecurity, nursing informatics, community informatics and educational informatics.

Gao stressed that Dominican's faith-based background has been key in designing programs that isn't built around numbers, but more around developing a knowledgeable and responsible professional.

"Dominican's long-standing commitment is to social justice," Gao said. " We care about society. We want our graduates to become a responsible player in this area."

For more information on the graduate program, visit gslis.dom.edu/academics/msim or for the undergraduate program, visit dom.edu/academics/undergraduate/programs/informatics.