Students share perspectives on new design and data science majors

March 13, 2023, 8:42 p.m.

In September, Stanford announced two major changes to its undergraduate education offerings: the former product design major was rebranded to the new design major, and the former data science minor would now be offered as both a B.A. and B.S. degree. 

Current and prospective students from the programs shared their thoughts with The Daily.

New Design Major 

The design major now belongs under the’s interdisciplinary programs (IDPs), and is categorized as a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Design. Previously, the product design major resulted in the conferral of a B.S. in Engineering. However, students may still choose to complete the product design engineering subplan if they matriculated before the 2022-2023 academic year. 

The design major now has three “methods” tracks: Physical Design and Manufacturing, AI and Digital User Experience, and Human Behavior and Multi-stakeholder Research. From there, students also select one Domain Focus area, which may be Climate and Environment, Living Matter, Healthcare and Health Technology Innovation, Oceans and Global Development, and Poverty. While not possible in the 2022-23 academic year, students will be able to propose their own Domain Focus area as an “honors” option in the future. 

Sydney Yeh ’26 said that the major is a “great way to use my creative skills, apply it to technology and move with the current times.” 

She also believes that the shift from product design to more broad design offerings is beneficial. “[While] people are pretty split [on this issue], I think it’s a good change because there’s more variety in what you can specialize in,” Yeh said. “Before, it was mostly physical design and designing products.”

Yeh intends to pursue the digital design track, as she is interested in designing apps and interfaces. She says the design major effectively weaves together her interests in art and computer science. “Originally, I was going to combine art and CS and design my own major, but found that the design major fits my goals,” Yeh said.

Hannah Kang ’26, another prospective design major, echoed Yeh’s sentiments about combining interests in computer science and art. “[The major allows me] to integrate the art aspect and the STEM aspect that I know for sure that Stanford is excelling in,” Kang said. 

Kang also expressed her appreciation for the CS requirements of the design major, saying, “I’m trying to take more CS classes so that … I can have at least the most fundamental CS knowledge [and can] seek ways to use my engineering skills to create something.” 

Sosi Day ’25, a design major on the human behavior track, praised the collaborative and multidisciplinary aspects of design. “There’s a lot of communal learning,” she said. “It’s also very creative, and it engages a lot of different parts of my brain. A lot of it is artistic, but there’s also problem solving skills involved.” 

Day said that as someone who seeks to “apply design thinking to other issues beyond manufacturing,” the change in major has been a positive one for her. “I never considered doing a product design major last year, but now that they’ve added two new tracks, it’s changed my mind,” she said. 

New Data Science Major 

The new data science major was also announced this year. Whereas previously, students could only minor in data science, undergraduates now have the option of majoring on either the B.S. or B.A. track. 

Professor Chiara Sabatti, associate director of Data Science’s B.S. track, said that the B.A. “has similar foundational requirements to the B.S., but has a concentration of interest in applying data science methods to solve problems in the social sciences.” 

According to Sabatti, the B.S. track is “closely aligned” with the former mathematical and computational science (MCS) major, which was phased out this year. She explained that the change to a data science major with more broad offerings was to more closely match with MCS graduates’ career paths, saying that “[the changes] are in response to the needs of the students and the demands of society.” 

Professor Emmanuel Candes, the Barnum-Simons Chair of math and statistics, said that the formal name change from MCS to data science occurred last spring, though the process of changing the curriculum and developing the B.S. and B.A. paths began in 2019. 

Candes echoed Sabatti’s reflections about students’ career paths, saying, “we realized that more and more of our graduates [of Mathematical and Computational Science] were entering the workforce as data scientists, and it seems like the [new] name represents more of a reality.” 

The major program has shifted to accommodate this growing interest in data, according to Sabatti. 

“The structure of the program has changed to make sure that we prepare students for this sustained interest in data science,” Sabatti said. “For example, there’s some extra requirements in computing, because the data sets that people need to work with require substantial use of computational devices, [and] there’s some extra classes on inference and how you actually extract information from this data.”

Similar to the new design major, many prospective data science majors say the interdisciplinary offerings of the major are enticing.  

“I like [data science] because it’s an intersection between technical fields and humanities-focused fields,” said Caroline Wei ‘26, a prospective B.A. data science major on the Technology and Society pathway. “What makes data science so powerful is it gives you the option to draw conclusions about society and present that to the rest of the world.” 

Similarly, Savannah Voth ’26, another prospective data science major, shared the humanities and technical skills she feels the major helps her build. “The data science B.A. allows me to use quantitative skills and apply it to the humanities and social sciences,” she said.

Voth expressed some concerns regarding the ability to connect required coursework with data science more directly. 

“One issue is that the requirements include classes in statistics and classes in areas you want to apply data science to, but there aren’t as many opportunities to connect them,” Voth said. “It would be cool if for each pathway, there was at least one class that is about data science applied to that topic.”

Despite this concern, Voth praised the openness of the major’s coursework. “I like how [the requirements] are very flexible and you can choose which area to focus on through the pathways.” 

Wei highlighted the effectiveness of the core requirements in building skills and perspectives, saying, “The ethics [requirement] is relevant since you have to know how to handle data in an ethical way, the compsci core combines the major aspects of technical fields.….and the social science core helps you see why those technical skills are important.”

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