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UMSI’s online MADS degree graduating its first students

A photo of Ani Madurkar smiling next to a maize and blue graphic

Tuesday, 08/10/2021

The first group of Master of Applied Data Science (MADS) students will graduate from the University of Michigan School of Information in August after spending two years in the fully online program, studying data science at the intersection of people, information and technology.

"When we planned and approved the MADS degree, our aspiration was to provide a rigorous introduction to data science in the context of applied problems," said Thomas A. Finholt, professor and dean of the School of Information. "We hoped this would appeal to a global audience of students seeking to use our curriculum to make a better world by applying data science to health, education, government and industry. As the first cohort completes the program, I am delighted that we have met and exceeded these goals."

At least 61 students have applied for graduation. They include a transformation analyst for Ford Motor Company, a film analyst for Pro Football Focus and a business manager for Capital One. Their undergraduate majors ranged from religious studies to mechanical engineering, and their ages range from 23 to 57. Thirteen are first-generation college students and 10 are first-generation U.S. Citizens.


The MADS degree was developed in collaboration with the U-M Center for Academic Innovation to meet the growing demand for people with experience in applied data science. The first cohort of 147 students began their studies in September 2019. 

MADS courses are offered in one credit, four-week modules taught by leading data science researchers and instructors. Students can take one to three credits per month, to complete the degree program in one to three years. The degree was designed for students who are eager to continue working full or part time during their studies and is ideal for career changers.

The program faculty have launched 27 classes with 34 credits. Faculty are continuously developing and shaping courses to meet the evolving data science field. 

One of the teachers who led the creation of the MADS program was Clinical Professor Charles Severance. “Dr. Chuck’s” massive online open course (MOOC) “Python for Everybody” on Coursera has enrolled 2.3 million students.

“Part of the benefit of working at the University of Michigan is that we are encouraged to engage with emergent ideas,” said Severance. “When Coursera was formed in 2012, Michigan was one of the four founding schools and the only public university of the four. By the time we were contemplating MADS at UMSI, many faculty members were already experienced and successful on Coursera.”

Another benefit of the MADS curriculum is its emphasis on project-based courses, where students have the opportunity to put data science into action. MADS students emerge with new technical skills and a competitive portfolio of work. 

“We've observed projects ranging from sports to finance to social good to climate change. The possibilities feel limitless and the impacts immediate," said Amy Homkes-Hayes, associate director of online programs and strategic advisor to the leadership team on online programs and digital content.


Thanks to the online nature of the program, MADS students are enrolled across the globe everywhere from Singapore to South Africa. The first group of MADS graduates hails from seven different countries and four different continents.

"One of the things I am most happy about is the feedback we receive from MADS students who wondered if they would be lonely in an online degree program,” Homkes-Hayes noted. “Again and again, they tell us they have found a warm, intellectually challenging and spirited community of data scientists in training, data science experts and supportive staff. We have observed them meeting up online and in-person around the world, proving that a strong community is not just where you are but who you are with.”

Ani Madurkar, MADS ’21, agreed. The biggest surprise for the data analyst in Okemos, Mich. has been the connection he’s formed with colleagues remotely. The best part, he said, were “the lasting friendships that came out of it.” 

“I'm deeply proud and grateful for the past two years with UM,” said Madurkar. “The empowering community and fascinating experiences here are unmatched.”

Many MADS students use the Slack business communications platform to keep connected. Madurkar is part of MADS Slack channels on sports analytics, healthcare analytics and data ethics. He even got to meet some of his classmates before the pandemic when they organized a trip to Portland, Oregon to network with corporations in the area. 

Julia Shuyue Wu, a solutions consultant in Sammamish, Wash., is also part of the first MADS cohort graduating in August. “​​This has been a challenging yet rewarding opportunity,” she said.  “I’m excited for the knowledge gained and the friendships forged in this experience.”

Looking ahead

Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Elizabeth Yakel is looking forward to the future of MADS. The C. Olivia Frost Collegiate Professor was instrumental in launching the MADS program.  

"As of August, the MADS program has reached several milestones,” Yakel said. “Our first cohort of MADS students has graduated and all the courses from our original plan have been launched. The year ahead features exciting new courses as well as revisions to existing courses so that UMSI can continue to deliver the best online applied data science degree to our students.”

As UMSI prepares to welcome a new group of MADS students, Dean Finholt took a moment to reflect on the program’s latest milestone: 

“This accomplishment, the graduation of our first MADS cohort, is a strong testament to the students who took a chance on a new degree, to the faculty who design and teach the curriculum, to the staff who recruit, enroll, advise, and place our students, and to our partners at Coursera and at the Center for Academic Innovation,” Finholt said. 

Learn more about the MADS program and how to apply.


- Kate Cammell, Writer UMSI