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Harvard Extension School Adds New Fields of Study, Joint Degree Program

Gates to Extension School
The gate entrance to the Harvard Extension School’s administrative offices, pictured in 2015.

The Division of Continuing Education has added two new fields of study, a joint bachelor’s and master’s degree program, and several new master’s capstone tracks.

The two new fields of study, Development Practice and Data Science, bring the number of Extension School graduate offerings to 23 areas of study.

“The field of data science has become incredibly important, incredibly hot,” said Henry H. Leitner, associate dean of the Information Technology master's program at DCE and a senior lecturer in Computer Science. 

Leitner said data science courses have been offered at the Extension School for around four years now, but that the discipline's surging popularity pushed it towards the status of an official field of study.

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Harvard introduced a version of Computer Science 109A: “Data Science 1: Introduction to Data Science,” the undergraduate data science course offered by the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, at the Extension School several years ago. Though not an introductory course, it reached its 90-student cap every year — and sometimes within a day of online registration opening, according to Leitner.

“It’s increasingly important for companies to hire people who specialize in this niche. Everyone wants to be in on this, every company wants people like this,” said Scott Gorlin, who teaches a new advanced Python for data science course required of all data science degree candidates at DCE.

Though data science has been gaining traction for a while, development practice — which addresses larger global challenges in sustainable development such as climate change and access to clean water — is still a relatively new field of study at the school.

“There’s been a major shift in the field of sustainability at large,” said Thomas P. Gloria, director of the graduate sustainability and environmental management program at DCE. 

“To continue to innovate and update our curriculum, we’re now offering this updated development practice field of study to keep current and make our graduates successful within the field of sustainability,” Gloria added. 

Students have demonstrated high levels of interest in both development practice and data science courses this year. Around 40 students are enrolled in, but not yet admitted to, the development practice field of study, Gloria said. Two students have transferred from the more general sustainability offering to development practice, according to Gloria.

Though students will not be admitted to the data science field of study until they successfully complete two prerequisite courses, Leitner estimates around 80 people will be formally enrolled by the end of this academic year.

Rodrigo Vargas, a first-year DCE student who works at an asset management firm, said he looks forward to the chance to take more data science courses. 

“My job, I think it requires deep knowledge of [data science],” Vargas said. “Improve my skills in real-world scenarios, learn different techniques, models, and how to approach problems — that’s what I’m looking for.”

— Staff writer Cindy H. Zhang can be reached at cindy.zhang@thecrimson.com.

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