New Agreement Leads to Master’s Degree in Data Science | St. Lawrence University

New Agreement Leads to Master’s Degree in Data Science

Recent Graduate Paves Way for Partnership with University of San Francisco

Being tucked away in Northern New York, St. Lawrence’s isolation has led to the University spawning outreach programs—like SLU Connect—in several urban areas and advanced-degree program agreements with large graduate schools to help link its students to the “outside” world.

This time, it was the big city that came calling. And, it was a recent Laurentian graduate who served as the operator, connecting St. Lawrence with the University of San Francisco to create a new 4+1 program in data science.

Taylor Pellerin ’17 had grown up in the North Country and had come to St. Lawrence in 2013, intending to enroll in the 3+2 program in mechanical engineering and to play football.

“I got injured playing football in my first year and stayed off the field after that,” Pellerin recalled. “Later on, I got involved with the club rugby team, which I found incredibly valuable. Besides the lifelong friendships, it fostered a great deal of teamwork; and in my senior year, I was a player-coach, leading a team of my peers.”

Even in high school, Pellerin was strong in math, but he couldn’t see himself working in traditional math careers, such as an accountant or an actuary. So, he began taking physics and computer science courses in his first two semesters, and in his last three years worked in the University’s Peterson Quantitative Resource Center (PQRC).

“By the time I was a junior, I wasn’t as certain about my interest in the 3+2 engineering program anymore and found myself leaning more towards computer science courses,” Pellerin said. “I enjoyed taking courses and hanging out with (Associate Professor of Computer Science) Lisa Torrey, (Dana Professor of Computer Science) Ed Harcourt, and (Assistant Professor of Computer Science) Choong-Soo Lee. I began to think, ‘maybe a software engineer track would be more appropriate for me.’”

He continued: “I had also built a great relationship with (Dana Professor of Statistics and Director of the PQRC) Michael Schuckers while working in the QRC. That’s where I overheard him talking one day of my junior year about sports statistics and thought to myself, ‘now there’s something I could get behind.’ The following summer I stayed on campus doing just that - in the form of a university fellowship.”

Pellerin graduated in 2017 with his Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and computer science, and he began applying to graduate programs in statistics and data science, including one at the University of San Francisco.

“I enjoyed meeting with the faculty there, and my family supported my move to the West Coast,” he said. “The program was quick and industry oriented, and I received my master’s in data science in 2018.”

Today, Pellerin is still living in San Francisco and is working as a data scientist for Uber Eats. His team is focused on the eater delivery experience and what it’s like from the user’s perspective. They utilize machine learning, statistical analysis, and devise various marketplace experiments to try to understand the user’s behavior. “The brunt of the work,” Pellerin explained, “is around predictive modeling, experimentation, and taking a deep dive into the data in order to try to answer questions like ‘why didn’t this feature work for this type of person’, in order to help our designers and engineers build a better product.”

Visiting USF after his graduation, Pellerin met up with the director of the program, David Uminsky, who serendipitously had a connection to St. Lawrence through Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics Daniel Look. The two had coincidently attended graduate school together and had jointly co-authored one of their most successful peer-reviewed papers.

During their meeting, Uminsky pitched the idea to Pellerin of creating an agreement in data science between the University of San Francisco and St. Lawrence.

“I was the second or third St. Lawrence student who had successfully gone through USF’s program,” Pellerin recalled. "(Uminsky) said USF would benefit from sourcing more good students from St. Lawrence, and St. Lawrence would benefit from structuring classes around the types of courses needed to put together a data science program. I then took the idea and pitched it to Professor Schuckers.”

The result was a new agreement between the two universities, creating a 4+1 program that allows students to receive their bachelor’s degree from St. Lawrence and their master of science degree in data science from USF.

“USF actually came to us,” Look said. “It was a testament to the strength of St. Lawrence’s Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics.”

Schuckers added: “There was a high-level of confidence on both sides between USF and St. Lawrence. After talking to Taylor and getting his feedback, we were ready to create this partnership.”

Data science and analytics is a field that combines elements of mathematics, economics, computer science, and statistics. And due to contemporary trends in artificial intelligence and big data, it’s a field that is growing rapidly. “There’s a great demand for people with the ability and know-how to manipulate and combine data,” Schuckers said. “Ultimately, this skill set helps organizations to confidently make decisions.”

His assertions are backed up with … data: According to LinkedIn, the fastest-growing job in America is data science, with a growth rate six-and-half times greater than other professions since 2012. IBM, meanwhile, expects demand for data scientists will jump another 28 percent by 2020.

In order to apply to the 4+1 with USF, St. Lawrence students will have to have taken courses in mathematics, statistics, and computer science as well as being in solid academic standing, have a recommendation by a math, computer science or statistics faculty member, and pass an interview with USF.

“We were given a lot of leniency in how to structure the program, but we decided to ratchet it up a bit,” Look said. “Statistics and computer science bring together the programming and data analysis while the rigor of the mathematics courses provides a solid foundation for quantitative analysis."

“USF actually came to us. It was a testament to the strength of St. Lawrence’s Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics.”

Daniel Look, associate professor of mathematics

Combined, the courses required for entry into the 4+1 culminate in learning both the functional work combined with theoretical understandings. “Our requirements,” Schuckers said, “guarantee that students will have a depth and understanding of mathematics that is more sophisticated than just being based in methods.”

To Pellerin, St. Lawrence graduates deliver even more than a solid understanding of math and sciences skills.

“My SLU coursework was fantastic and provided me with a ‘first principles’ framework of thinking about how we take up a problem, strip it down to its most basic components before coming up with solutions,” Pellerin explained. “In addition, being on the rugby team fostered teamwork, and working in the PQRC taught me how to convey quantitative ideas to people who may not think quantitatively.

Pellerin believes—like many Laurentians—that a liberal arts education forces one out of their own comfort zone and helps creates a well-rounded individual.

“I am the youngest person on my team; but, I have been able to lead a discussion with industry veterans with a confidence that came from attending St. Lawrence,” he said. “Juggling club sports, my leadership role on the team, my work experience with the PQRC and being a successful student … that’s what hiring managers are looking for and what they value.”

For more information, visit the Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics.