Prof Kanshukan Rajaratnam recently joined Stellenbosch University (SU) as the new Director of SU's newly established School for Data Science and Computational Thinking. And from the get go, he has been encouraged to see “how invested everyone is in the School's success".
With a PhD in Systems Engineering and management experience from the University of Cape Town where he served, among others, as Deputy Dean for Transformation and Strategic Projects and Acting Dean for the Faculty of Commerce, he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his new role.
Rajaratnam says many universities across the world have identified Data Science as a very important discipline, because of the data-rich world we find ourselves in. That is why there has been a race to set up Data Science focused schools – and he is the man who needs to get SU out of the starting blocks.
According to Rajaratnam, SU has a competitive edge. “Thanks to our leadership, SU has deviated from the norm in a unique manner. The School is set up to focus not only on Data Science, but also on Computational Thinking, thereby offering a unique value proposition to students, researchers and industry. I am excited to be part of shaping and growing what is an important part of the University's future."
He identifies the first two milestones on the road to establishing the School. The first would be to hold the School's first governing board meeting and reach agreement on the way forward in the form of an operational plan. “Given the diverse representation on the governing board, the operational plan will be one that has broad agreement across various players important to the School," he says. The governing board met in early April with a way forward.
The second milestone is to start offering short courses and workshops as soon as possible. “This is a good way to be useful to students, the research communities and industry. It is also a way to bring people together." With this in mind, the School launched the African Data Science Academy (ADSA) in June and will be offering two short courses in July. They are administering these courses with the African Doctoral Academy (ADA). The internationally known ADA brings a wealth of experience in running such courses. The demand for these short courses means that ADSA will have to repeat these offerings very soon. “Launching ADSA and the short courses are an important milestone for the School."
Rajaratnam is confident that his time as Deputy Dean, and specifically as Acting Dean, has given him experience in building relationships across various units to achieve a common goal. “Such experience will come in handy when one wants to build a school that plugs into the various Data Science and Computational Thinking related activities across multiple faculties.
“It was quite exciting to arrive and find various research activities in this area across the University. The results of these research activities would have meaningful impact on lives on the continent. I get to be part of all that in some small fashion."