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MADS grads gather on campus to celebrate commencement

A MADS student laughs at a table while chatting with a faculty member, with a larger reception visible behind them.
MADS graduate Xue Xu chats with lecturer Alex McLeod during the MADS reception in North Quad
Two MADS students pose for a photo with a step-and-repeat background featuring the UMSI logo
MADS students pose for a celebratory photo
MADS student Karl Haviland presents during the project fair.
MADS student Karl Haviland was one of ten students who presented during the MADS poster fair
MADS students pose with Paul Resnick and Andrea Forte, holding a ceremonial check to celebrate their prize-winning Expo project.
MADS student Gabriel Alon (center) poses with faculty members (from left) Michelle LeBlanc, Paul Resnick, Andrea Forte and Elle O’Brien in celebration of his group's first-prize Expo project, "YouTube Redefined"

Wednesday, 05/08/2024

Graduating Master of Applied Data Science students gathered with their families and with faculty and staff of the University of Michigan School of Information for a poster fair and celebratory reception on May 1. 

On commencement eve, the event offered an opportunity to reflect on how far MADS grads have come to reach this milestone — hailing from distinct professional and educational backgrounds, maintaining careers as they pursued their master’s degrees, and representing the greatest diversity in age and geography of any UMSI degree program.

“I am so proud of these alumni and how they embody the spirit and practice of using technology to build a better world,” said Amy Homkes-Hayes, director and strategic advisor of online programs at UMSI.

Visit the School of Information’s 2024 graduation archive to view the full photo gallery 📸

The distance traveled was, in many cases, literal — MADS grads came from across the state of Michigan, both U.S. coasts, and as far away as Switzerland to attend the reception and walk in the UMSI and U-M commencement ceremonies. 

A student points to a poster while another student stands beside her, holding a project brochure.
Xue Xu (right) presents at the MADS poster fair

For Xue Xu, who traveled from San Jose, California, this was an opportunity to connect in-person with professors and classmates who she had formed close relationships with in the fully-online degree program. Xu pursued a MADS degree in order to pivot careers from software engineer to data scientist. 

“The program is designed very well,” she said, remarking that MADS offered the greatest range of focuses within data science of the programs she considered, while seeming to evolve to meet the demands of industry. 

Still, some of what the MADS program yielded was unexpected. 

“I made my best friend in a project,” Xu smiled. Maybe this explains the hearty buzz that a few dozen MADS students were able to generate in Space 2435 of North Quad. While many graduates were meeting their classmates and professors for the first time in person, they sounded like old friends reuniting. 

For Aaron Newman, who traveled from Alexandria, Virginia, this was a shared U-M milestone: He celebrated his graduation from the MADS program, while his child Max Newman celebrated their graduation from the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. 

A student stands to the left of a "UMSI Alumni" banner, with their father standing to the right
MADS graduate Aaron Newman (right) poses with their child and fellow Wolverine, Max Newman (left)

“I’m very proud to be graduating with my kid, and I timed being in the program to make that a possibility,” Newman said. 

He holds a B.S. and M.S. in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT, along with a degree in information technology from George Mason University. Prior to entering the MADS program, Newman had stepped into a data science role within his company. He wanted the credentials to match, and the skills to be even more effective. 

For his capstone project, Newman collaborated with two classmates to build an AI chatbot that answers questions about the MADS program — one of the accomplishments he is most proud of. “I know two years ago I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” he said.

What sets the MADS program apart, he said, is the strength of communication: “The friends and colleagues that I’ve been able to really have meaningful discussions with, even though they’re in far-flung places, in Ann Arbor, Chicago, Vancouver and Shanghai, all at the same time — that’s a blast.” 

Aaron Newman wears a blue stole that reads "MADS 2024" while shaking the hand of associate dean Erin Krupka on stage at commencement
Newman shakes the hand of Erin Krupka, associate dean for faculty, during the UMSI commencement ceremony.

MADS grads are crafty. They’re skilled at building intentional community, because they’ve done this with classmates and professors over Slack and Zoom. They also excel at celebrating. Newman, for example, ordered a custom “MADS 2024” stole to don for the UMSI commencement ceremony the following day.

In her remarks at the reception, Dean Andrea Forte celebrated the growth of the MADS program, which has more than quadrupled enrollment since launching five years ago. MADS students are part of a global degree program that now spans six continents.

“As you came to discover during your studies, ‘home’ is not defined as a physical place in the MADS program, but as an experience, a community, and a group of people dedicated to a growing field,” Forte told graduates. “And you will always have a home here at the University of Michigan and with UMSI.”

Abigail McFee and Jeffrey Smith 

Visit the School of Information’s 2024 graduation archive to watch the graduation ceremony, view the full photo gallery, print a souvenir program and order UMSI merchandise. 

Learn more about UMSI’s online Master of Applied Data Science program

Read the stories of some of the students who decided to further their careers with UMSI’s Master of Applied Data Science degree program.