American Family Insurance announced Friday a $20 million investment into data science initiatives at UW-Madison, extending the company’s partnership with the university.
The donation includes a $10 million endowment to create the American Family Insurance Data Science Institute on campus.
The other $10 million will go toward data science research over the next 10 years, according to the university. The announcement came at a joint event held at the Discovery Building on campus Friday
Data scientists work to make sense of large sets of complex figures. The investment into data science comes from a growing need the university sees in adapting to a changing professional environment that is increasingly using data analytics across fields.
“Like many other academic institutions, we are grappling with how to address the challenges of a rapidly evolving data landscape,” said Norman Drinkwater, interim vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “Given the strength of our faculty in both fundamental and applied data science, we are in a good position to develop an interdisciplinary institute focused on data science, and we are grateful to American Family Insurance for their continuing partnership in this research area.”
The new institute will be housed in the McArdle building on campus, near Henry Mall, joining other university initiatives to improve data science such as UW Odyssey, IT Academy and the UniverCity Alliance. The institute's interim director will be Brian Yandell, professor of biometry, statistics and horticulture.
The university additionally announced a data science major available for undergraduates in the near future. The major is expected to attract around 1,000 undergrads, according to the university.
“Creating the American Family Insurance Data Science Institute will bring faculty together from across campus to collaborate on cutting-edge research, spark new opportunities for our students, and give us new ways to work with industry partners,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank said. “It will advance discoveries in sectors vital to the Wisconsin economy and make sure our university remains a leader in this important area of research.”
American Family Insurance, based in Madison, has an established relationship with the university, including a 10-year, $40 million pledge to the Wisconsin Alumni Association “to inspire and support Badger alumni in their pursuit of the next big thing, and help them protect what they’ve worked tirelessly to achieve,” according to their website.
“This latest partnership recognizes the importance of using data science to help our customers, by providing insights on the challenges they face and how best to take action to meet them,” American Family Insurance chair and CEO Jack Salzwedel said. “The Institute will also develop a pipeline of potential future employees in the data science field, as well as provide valuable learning opportunities for our current employees.”