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SAS Divas and Dudes in Data Science sparks passion for high school learners

As part of its ongoing commitment to helping South Africa develop the skills needed to meet the high demand for data science talent, global analytics leader SAS, in collaboration with the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the Centre of Excellence in Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, hosted an online Divas and Dudes in Data Science event for grade 11 Mathematics learners on Friday, 28 October 2022.

The event was designed to introduce these learners to the exciting world of analytics and data science as possible career choices. Divas and Dudes in Data Science is a platform to provide learners with the opportunity to virtually meet analysts and data scientists who share their insights with learners on what careers in data science entail and how best to pursue a career in this field.

Dr Humphrey Brydon, the head of the Department of Statistics and Population Studies at the UWC, discussed the university path to follow for students who want to become a data scientist. The event also saw senior lecturer Dr Julia Keddie take learners on a journey of what a career in the field looks like by leveraging her 20 years’ industry experience as an analyst and data scientist. Finally, lecturer Dr Rechelle Jacobs discussed how she became a data scientist and academic. Dr Jacobs has 15 years’ experience and completed her PhD in September.

“Data science is an interdisciplinary field that solves complex problems using advanced analytics. The UWC has developed its Masters in Statistical Science with Specialisation in Data Science degree with industry partnerships to provide our students with the ideal combination of theoretical and practical skills to pursue a career as a data scientist. Divas and Dudes in Data Science is a crucial platform to showcase the potential of data science and ignite the passion of high school learners as we work with SAS to address this critical skills shortage not only in South Africa but beyond the country’s borders as well,” says Professor Rénette Blignaut, Manager of the Masters in Data Science programme at UWC.

Data proficiency is a powerful skill not just for today’s working world, but also for the emerging and expanding digital economy. The amount of potentially useful data being generated is increasing exponentially, with global data creation projected to grow to more than 180 zettabytes within the next three years. Data is critical to advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT) that are shaping the digital era. This means data skills have become quintessential to the way people live, work and play today, tomorrow and well into the future.

Following the online event, Professor Rénette Blignaut received an email from one of the attending learners, which reads: “Thank you very much for the opportunity and for the time UWC lecturers took to inform myself and other students on things we needed to know and apply at later stage in our studies and career. I enjoyed every minute of your lecture…it was extremely helpful and I am very grateful to have been part of the workshop.”

“Solving real-world problems is what drives business innovation and impact. Organisations are becoming data-driven by design but require the relevant skill sets to unlock its true potential. This is why the work UWC is doing to create a passion for data in high school learners is so important. Divas and Dudes in Data Science highlights what it takes to become a data scientist and the difference the student can make in the world. We are excited to be a part of initiatives such as these and providing learners with the needed specialised software to train on,” says André Zitzke, Manager: Global Academic Programmes in Africa for SAS.

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