UTSA Recruits Berkeley Leader to Head New Data School

The University of Texas at San Antonio has named a founding director for its new School of Data Science, David Mongeau, who will lead the new facility as a hub for research, professional development and partnerships.

Digital rendering of the UTSA School of Data Science.
The UTSA School of Data Science will be housed in a new facility along with the National Security Collaboration Center.
University of Texas San Antonio
Last week marked another step in the development of new public-private data science research efforts at the University of Texas at San Antonio, months after university officials first broke ground on a new $90 million facility to house its School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center together under one roof.

The university has announced that David Mongeau, executive director of the Berkeley Institute for Data Science at the University of California, Berkeley, will lead the School of Data Science. As its founding director, he will help formulate a vision for the new school ahead of its planned opening in summer 2022.

According to the university’s news release, the new school aims to be a national focal point for public-private partnerships between academia and the tech industry. Officials say it will be the first school of its kind in Texas, transforming UTSA into a nationally recognized research-intensive institution and hub for future workforce development in the field of data science.
Headshot of David Mongeau speaking.
David Mongeau, founding director of UTSA's School of Data Science.
(UTSA)
In addition to Mongeau, the school will include faculty from departments of computer science, computer engineering, statistics and data sciences, and information systems and cybersecurity. It will also bring together UTSA’s interdisciplinary research centers, such as the Cyber Center for Security and Analytics, Institute for Cyber Security, Open Cloud Institute, Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute and National Security Collaboration Center.

Mongeau told Government Technology that one of the school’s key goals will be to build relationships between the university and industry partners, drawing off his experience with research outreach efforts at UC Berkeley, where he expanded the institute’s engagement with industry.

“My vision for the center certainly mirrors the vision the university has already set for SDS,” he said following last week’s announcement. “In that regard, I’m excited about the opportunity to build out more of the research focus areas, as well as its academic programs.”

According to Mongeau, the school and new facility will create a space for transdisciplinary data science programs. This approach, he said, will be crucial to UTSA’s IT workforce development efforts amid a shortage of qualified professionals in cybersecurity and data science fields.

“The digital revolution has influenced every field and endeavor — every business and market sector,” he said, noting that every postsecondary discipline will require some level of digital literacy in the years ahead.

Over the years, UTSA has developed close partnerships with federal agencies such as the Department of Defense and National Security Agency (NSA), focusing on cyber defense education and research efforts. The university’s cybersecurity program, among the top programs in the nation, has been designated as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations by the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security.

Mongeau said the new data school plans to work with tech industry partners such as The MITRE Corporation, a nonprofit that manages federally funded research, to build upon UTSA’s education and research programs in the years to come. Further details about future partnerships remained pending as of this week, although UTSA confirmed in an email that Frost Bank committed $1 million last week to the new data school.

In addition to pursuing industry partnerships, Mongeau said the school will hopefully become a pipeline for traditionally underrepresented groups looking for careers in IT, also one of his goals in his time at Berkeley.

“We also want some solid graduate fellowship programs and post-doctoral scholar programs where people are able to go deeper into data science,” he said, noting that UTSA’s designation as a Hispanic-serving institution will likely help to diversify tech fields.

Besides his work at UC Berkeley, Mongeau co-led the Translational Data Analytics Institute at Ohio State University, where he secured grants from the National Science Foundation, the state of Ohio and others to study ways in which data could help reduce pollution and combat the ongoing opioid epidemic.

As part of the school’s trans-disciplinary approach to IT, he hopes to encourage UTSA data science students to consider the role of ethics in creating tech solutions for real-world problems such as these.

“One of the things that are important to keep in mind is that the School of Data Science is not just about the foundational areas of data science — computing, statistics and math. It’s also about all the areas that those elements contribute to, such as biological science, life science, environmental science, humanities,” he said, adding that an ethical approach to data science is “paramount.”

“The worst thing to do would be to simply arm people with the technical know-how without thinking through the ramifications of the technology they’re introducing or the data they’re using,” he continued. “Just because you can do something with data and technology does not mean you should, and if you do, what are the impacts? That’s critical.”

Mongeau will join UTSA on July 1.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.