RENCI Leadership Assigned to Lead Implementation of the UNC School of Data Science & Society

RENCI Director, Stan Ahalt, and Chief Operating Officer, Jay Aikat, will take on secondary appointments as Inaugural Dean and Senior Associate Dean, respectively

RENCI leadership, in coordination with UNC-Chapel Hill leadership, has recently announced that Director, Stan Ahalt, and Chief Operating Officer, Jay Aikat, will be taking on leadership roles as secondary appointments for the launch of the School of Data Science and Society (SDSS) planned for fall 2022. Ahalt will serve as the School’s Inaugural Dean, and Aikat will serve as the Senior Associate Dean. 

Ahalt and Aikat have both been instrumental in spearheading data science efforts on campus for many years, each serving as members or leads on various committees that have led to the creation of the SDSS. Additionally, many others at RENCI have supported the path to the School through work such as: developing curriculum for and teaching the new Introduction to Data Science course; serving on the committee developing the Data Science minor; organizing and supporting the seven subcommittees for data science in 2019-2020 that led to the initial feasibility plan for the SDSS; and more. 

The announcement was made during a RENCI ‘All Hands’ meeting, where Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Provost Chris Clemens, and Senior Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Andy Johns joined to say a few words. 

After the initial announcement of Ahalt and Aikat’s roles in the School, Guskiewicz emphasized why Ahalt is the right person for the job. “Stan is a global leader who we believe is well poised to lead this new school into the future,” said Guskiewicz. “[His] passion for using a team approach in applying data science to society’s most pressing challenges is exactly what we need for the new school.” 

Clemens added to Guskiewicz’s comments stating, “Through his research, teaching, and leadership of RENCI, Stan has a proven track record of bringing together diverse groups of people and collaborating across disciplines for the greater good.” Clemens went on to explain that the School will support the development of multi-disciplinary and flexible research clusters to utilize the variety of expertise and research at Carolina to address timely problems, making Stan’s unique experience crucial for this leadership role. 

“Our established prominence in the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences uniquely  positions us to build the SDSS as a vessel and venue for interdisciplinary collaboration,” said Clemens, adding that the School will utilize innovative techniques and team science approaches to develop solutions that improve communities.      

In addition to sharing a vision for the School, Guskiewicz and Ahalt both emphasized the plan to establish a mutually beneficial relationship between RENCI and SDSS to seek out opportunities for collaboration and shared innovation. Ahalt noted that, since the beginning, RENCI’s work has focused on solving the most challenging problems affecting our society. 

“RENCI has demonstrated significant and consistent success in identifying pressing societal problems and applying a unique array of skills and expertise to develop and implement solutions,” said Ahalt.

Clemens stated that the SDSS will build upon this work and use RENCI as the premier model for a team science approach that produces real changes for people in our communities. 

Ahalt and Johns shared details for the changes that will happen at RENCI during this period. Ashok Krishnamurthy, currently RENCI’s Deputy Director, will serve as Interim Director. Asia Mieczkowska, currently Deputy Chief Operations Officer, will assume the role of Interim Chief Operations Officer. Ahalt also noted the possibility for RENCI researchers to take on new and interesting roles during this period and as the School develops, with unique opportunities for growth and creativity.