CHARLOTTESVILLE — With Amazon coming to Virginia, the University of Virginia will open a new school focused on data science.
The university on Friday announced plans to open a School of Data Science in what would be U.Va.’s first new school since 2007 and its 12th in total. The majority of the funding will come from a $120 million donation from the Charlottesville-based Quantitative Foundation, the largest private gift in U.Va. history.
The announcement comes months after Virginia — and New York City — won a public solicitation process to have Amazon locate part of its second headquarters in the state.
Virginia lured Amazon to Crystal City in Arlington County with an economic development package focused on its ability to create technology-fluent talent. Other public universities in the state have announced plans to expand the technology pipeline. Now, the state’s flagship is getting involved.
“This is this university’s significant commitment to support that initiative,” U.Va. board of visitors Rector Frank M. Conner III said at Friday’s announcement in the Rotunda.
Gov. Ralph Northam, the public face of Virginia’s pitch to Amazon, called it a “momentous day” for the university and state.
“We want Virginia to be the best state for tech talent,” said Northam, wearing an orange and blue tie. “We’re already attracting tech jobs and investment, but to continue that progress we must build up our workforce even more.”
U.Va. plans for the new school, which is still being designed, to have a Ph.D. program, undergraduate programs in data science, and data science certificates. The university also plans to expand its existing on-campus and online master’s program in data science, which has 69 students now.
The private foundation footing the bill for the majority of the school, which is one of the first data science schools in the U.S., is run by two U.Va. alumni.
A Class of 1991 alumnus, Jaffray Woodriff, is the foundation’s trustee, while his wife, Merrill Woodriff, who completed a bachelor’s degree from the College of Arts and Sciences and a master’s degree from the Curry School of Education in 1998, is its director.
Jaffray Woodriff co-founded and runs Quantitative Investment Management, a private investment firm that operates out of Charlottesville.
The foundation’s donation will pay for the faculty and administration of the school along with doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships. A university news release said there would be money also coming from U.Va.’s Bicentennial Professors Fund and Bicentennial Scholars Fund.
The $120 million — and another nearly $80 million from the university, said university President Jim Ryan — will also pay for a new building that will house the school and an endowed fund for visiting scholars from other schools. The location of the new building has not been determined.
More funding for the school will come from the university, philanthropy and faculty research grants, according to the news release.
The university currently has a Data Science Institute, which opened in 2013 and grants graduate degrees. A $10 million donation from the Quantitative Foundation led to the creation of the institute, which will merge into the new school.
Phil Bourne, who has served as the director of the institute since 2017, is the school’s acting dean, overseeing satellites and centers rather than departments.
“The Data Science Institute has provided a solid foundation, including best practices, a foundational team and a set of processes and protocols upon which to build,” Bourne said. “We propose to be the leader of the future.”
The university’s most recent new school — the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy — opened in 2007.
U.Va. is the latest school to expand its efforts in producing more computer-oriented graduates.
The same November day as Amazon announced that it had chosen Virginia, Virginia Tech unveiled plans to build a $1 billion innovation campus close to where Amazon is plotting its new headquarters in Northern Virginia.
The 1 million-square-foot project will have 100 master’s degree students next year in a temporary space and 500 master’s students within five years.
George Mason University plans to build an Institute for Digital Innovation at its Arlington campus and create the first school of computing in the country. The university already has 5,000 computer science students and expects to triple that enrollment.
There are currently more than 400 graduates from state colleges working in tech for Amazon, according to a presentation from Stephen Moret, the head of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia earlier this week.
Virginia Tech has the most graduates employed by Amazon, followed by George Mason and U.Va.
While Amazon is the latest to choose to operate in Virginia, it’s not the only one. Others, including Facebook, Microsoft and Micron, have expanded in the state recently.
“We have many companies that are competing for talent,” Northam said. “Now, we’re building a pipeline of workers.”
U.Va.’s school must still gain approval from the university’s board of visitors and SCHEV. If it’s approved, the university plans to open the school this fall or the fall of 2020.