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New U of R SGI partnership to enrich study of data science in Saskatchewan

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: April 8, 2021 11:00 a.m.

Data science is a growing field of study across many academic disciplines at the U of R thanks to the new SGI Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Data Science.
Data science is a growing field of study across many academic disciplines at the U of R thanks to the new SGI Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Data Science. Image by xresch from Pixabay

The study of data science recently got a boost at the University of Regina, thanks to a new partnership between the Institution and its long-time industry partner Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI). Starting last fall, SGI has committed $225,000 over three years to create the SGI Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Undergraduate Data Science, and Computer Science Curriculum and Development and Teaching at the University of Regina.

“We saw this fellowship as a way to invest in the development of data science skills inside the province,” says Robert Osicki BSc’06, Vice President Product Management & Corporate Underwriting at SGI. “SGI has a long-standing partnership with the University of Regina and we are continually impressed by the programs offered by the University and the graduates that come out of these programs. Many graduates of the U of R go on to be leaders in our organization and others. We are very confident that the programs born out of this fellowship will be successful and will serve students and the Saskatchewan economy well.”

Similar to the hub in a wheel, the new SGI Post-Doctoral Fellowship in data science brings together the different spokes of teaching, research, and industry application, in order to create positive community impact and career-ready recruits.

“Almost 20 years ago, the University responded to a need for home-grown expertise in actuarial science by creating an entire undergraduate Bachelor of Science program in actuarial science,” explains Dr. Douglas Farenick, Dean of the Faculty of Science. “This program has transformed how many Saskatchewan companies, including SGI, operated by bringing mathematical analysis into their primary activities. Recent discussions with some U of R alumni who now have leadership roles at SGI underscored a need for analytical thinking in areas beyond actuarial science; these discussions were a catalyst for developing the post-doctoral fellowship in data science.”

(Left to right): Robert Osicki, Dr. Mo Mirbagheri, Dean Dougals Farenick SGI
partners with the University of Regina to develop a strong academic foundation
for data science teaching, research, and industry application in Saskatchewan,
through the SGI Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Data Science.
Photo: Robert Osicki, Dr. Mo Mirbagheri, U of R Photography

Data science is a growing field of study across many academic disciplines from mathematics and computer science to business, medicine, and engineering. As a result, qualified graduates in data science are in high demand to bring this much needed skillset to a broad range of industries and help them meet the needs of society. For example, energy companies use data science to predict demand and consumption in order to ensure a stable supply of energy, and credit card companies employ data science to identify and prevent fraudulent activities. 

“Data is constantly generated by machines surrounding us such as mobile applications, sensor devices, and software programs,” explains Dr. Mo Mirbagheri, who earned his PhD in computer science from the U of R and was hired as the SGI Fellow in September 2020. “It is also very important for us to study the raw data, which contains a large amount of information, in order to understand it.”

Through the support of the SGI Post-Doctoral Fellowship, the University’s new focus on data science in undergraduate and graduate studies will contribute to the Institution’s strategic goal of graduating career-ready students.

“At the moment, our vision for data science at the undergraduate level involves many disciplines, including biology, computational science, statistics, and mathematics,” explains Farenick. “The multidisciplinary feature should make the program available to many Bachelor of Science students.”

In his role as SGI Fellow, Mirbagheri is leading the development of computing courses taught at the undergraduate level, as well as a new graduate-level program. 

“I’m excited to be a part of the group working on the upcoming program,” says Mirbagheri, who participates in the newly created University of Regina Data Science Working Group, which was formed to support a rigorous academic foundation in data science across units at the University. “The Department of Computer Science is going to offer a brand-new data science program at the graduate level in September. So, we have been focusing on the development of a comprehensive program which will train high-quality prospective employees or entrepreneurs for the province and Canada.”   

In addition, Mirbagheri liaises with industry and the public to ensure the need for data science in industry application and community-based research is met.  

“The investment in this fellowship deepens the partnership we have enjoyed with the U of R over the past many years,” says Osicki. “It’s been a partnership in the truest sense of the word. It has enabled SGI to have a dialogue with the University about what skills and knowledge are important to the insurance industry and more broadly. Our partnership has also strengthened our relationship with the students and has helped SGI find countless recruits who are adding so much value to our organization. It’s a true win-win.”

Research is part of the Discovery area of focus in the University of Regina’s 2020-2025 Strategic Plan kahkiyaw kiwȃhkomȃkȃninawak – All Our Relations. The University values and supports an environment that allows for high-quality teaching, research, and learning that strengthens the academic successes of our students and faculty and improves the lives of Canadians.

Developing the University of Regina's Impact & Identity is part of our 2020-2025 Strategic Plan kahkiyaw kiwȃhkomȃkȃninawak – All Our Relations. We are committed to strengthening our reciprocal relationships and serving the social, cultural, economic, environmental, and technological needs of our communities.