Aihua Li, assistant teaching professor of data science, uses herself as an example of what one can do with an advanced degree in data science. 

“If you are equipped with knowledge in data science,” she says, “there is a high chance that you can get a great job, no matter where you are in this growing field.”   

Aihua came to Ball State in 2021 after doing five years of post-doctoral work at Boise Aerospace Laboratory at Idaho State University and Boise State University as well as one year at Miami University in Ohio. She completed all her academic degrees at Beijing Normal and Lanzhou universities in China. 

Her expertise in data science and applications in geography and environmental science led her to the Ball State faculty position. 

One of the First Full-time Faculty 

“I am very proud to be one of the first full-time faculty in the program,” she says of Ball State’s master’s in data science, which was launched in 2020. “I have contributed a lot to the program, and I am very happy to observe its growth.” 

The 32-credit, online-only, non-thesis degree provides a strong foundation in math, computer science, and statistics and programming skills that are in high demand in the businesses of software development, network and systems engineering, business analysis, and data analysis, and mathematics, to name a few.  

“Even in an online learning environment, we place an emphasis on smaller class sizes and greater personal attention from faculty,” says Aihua.  

Aihua is Interdisciplinary Geospatial Scientist 

Aihua says she was trained to be “an interdisciplinary geospatial scientist, with lots of experience in big data and statistical analysis.” 

“There is a big increase in data and information over the world, but how to make good use of these data is difficult and needs people with the expertise,” she says. “Any company and institute that uses data need data analysts to conduct a quality job.” 

The most lucrative jobs in data analysis,” she notes, “are those that use data to make investment decisions, target customers, assess risks, and decide on capital allocations.”   

What Students Want from the Program 

What’s attracting students to the program, she observes, is mastering skills for current jobs and future jobs, and enhancing their research in academic fields.  

“Real-world problems are used as examples in our classes to train students, so they can immediately apply the skills after graduation to their careers,” says Aihua. “Students are expected to conduct more complex projects or research during the courses to achieve the goal of addressing real-world problems.” 

“The knowledge you gain in these courses can easily expand into a number of discipline-specific applications in the health, environmental, social, and behavioral sciences,” she says.

She is Scholar of Big Data Analysis 

With ten-plus years of research in environment and ecology, Aihua is a scholar of big data analysis and its applications on natural resources, ecology, and environment. 

Which is why she self-identifies as an environmentally-friendly and data-sensitive person in nature.”