Northwestern Mutual partners with UWM and Marquette on $40 million data science institute

Company committing $15 million to initiative, universities each investing $12 million


Northwestern Mutual is partnering with Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on a nearly $40 million initiative that will launch the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute.

The Milwaukee-based life insurance company is making a $15 million commitment over five years to support an endowed professorship at each university, research projects, new faculty, expanded curriculum, K-12 STEM initiatives and pre-college programming. Marquette and UWM will each commit more than $12 million to data science education and research at their universities.

“Preparing our future workforce and aligning curriculum with business needs is critical to the economic vibrancy of Milwaukee,” said John Schlifske, chairman and CEO of Northwestern Mutual. “Northwestern Mutual is committed to building a center of excellence around data science, and through our partnership with Marquette University and UW-Milwaukee, we will establish Milwaukee as a data science capital with leading academic programs and career opportunities.”

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Northwestern Mutual will provide classroom and office space in Cream City Labs, the company’s new innovation lab that is under construction in downtown Milwaukee, for the institute. The first classes in the institute will launch as part of the 2019-20 academic year. The hiring of interim co-directors and curriculum planning for the institute will begin June 30.

Under the partnership, data scientists from Northwestern Mutual will work with the universities on teaching opportunities, mentoring and internship programs and help the universities align their curriculum to current industry needs.

The need for data science talent continues to grow as companies across industries recognize the competitive advantage of using data science – or the extraction of useful information from large data sets – to make decisions, solve problems and create new products.

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“There is so much data coming out of everything we do,” said Purush Papatla, marketing professor at the UWM Lubar School of Business. “Take Instagram. Every day between 80 and 90 million photos are posted to Instagram. A half-billion tweets are going out on Twitter. Every ride is tracked on Uber. Garage openers are connected to the Internet now. Data is connected to everything we do. If businesses can use the data to pull out insights, that can improve their operations.”

Graduates with a background in data science enter a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, accounting, pharmaceuticals, financial services and health care.

“The employment opportunities are very diverse,” Papatla said. “There is no field that can afford not to use data and analytics today.”

Karl Gouverneur, vice president of digital workplace, corporate solutions and head of digital innovation for Northwestern Mutual, traces the origins of the initiative back to Northwestern Mutual’s technology summit last fall, where regional leaders discussed how to move Milwaukee’s technology ecosystem forward.

“We had been talking about what could we do in the areas of data science to support the economic vibrancy of  Milwaukee and to support increasing our digital profile and the academic programs that exist in town,” Gouverneur said. “We wanted to strike a partnership. We talked to Marquette. We talked to UWM. We thought one of them would say yes. But both of them were interested, so here we are.”

Leaders from both universities praised the partnership.

“Northwestern Mutual, UW-Milwaukee and Marquette are creating an exceptional, unprecedented partnership to further the economic renaissance under way in southeast Wisconsin,” said Michael Lovell, Marquette University president. “Marquette will strengthen the collaboration through our data science major, which gives students the skills needed to transform data into knowledge that will benefit society.”

“A looming talent shortage and global competition demand that we make intelligent decisions that are driven by the plethora of data available to us all,” said UWM chancellor Mark Mone. “This is easier said than done. Working together will draw us closer to building a region that is rich in technological and analytical expertise and attracts new and strengthens existing organizations and industries while enriching our communities.”

The Milwaukee School of Engineering, meanwhile, is making a big push to bolster its programs in the related fields of artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning. Construction is underway on MSOE’s new computational science facility in the center of campus, which will house its new computer science degree program and opportunities for students to work with businesses on real-world problems using AI.

Gouverneur said both MSOE’s initiative and Northwestern Mutual’s new partnership with UWM and Marquette will all work to grow the region’s tech talent and help retain graduates.

“The more the better,” Gouverneur said of the programs. “We want to keep the talent in town. We want to keep using local solutions for business problems we have. We want to identify opportunities with local talent. We don’t want to take our data out to the West Coast for data scientists on the West Coast to solve the problem. We can solve it here.”

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