VERMILLION, S.D. — Technology impacts every aspect of life and those who can develop and implement these systems are in high demand.
The University of South Dakota’s computer science program has grown significantly over the last few years. It is also the first university in South Dakota to offer an artificial intelligence program and has been attracting students from all over the world.
The computer science program offers degrees in computer science, data science and artificial intelligence while providing opportunities for internships and student groups.
USD had a 137% increase in international graduate students this year, with almost all of the growth in the computer science program.
Demand for computer scientists is estimated to grow 21 percent from now until 2031 and the demand for data scientists is estimated to grow 36 percent over the same period, both faster than average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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KC Santosh is the chair of the computer science program and founded USD’s artificial intelligence program.
In simple terms, artificial intelligence is the use of machine learning, data science, image processing, signal processing, pattern recognition and data mining algorithms, to name a few, to solve complex and difficult problems and large datasets to problem-solve.
“As the world is data-driven, predictive modeling is another term, which business and market would like to call as AI-driven tool,” Santosh said.
“Traditionally speaking, AI technologies and tools are used when there is a complicated task that may be expensive and error-prone when done manually,” Santosh said.
Santosh said the need of artificial intelligence is everywhere and can be implemented in numerous ways. He said the ability to analyze and predict what to do next is important in many industries such as healthcare, education, transportation, security, defense, farming and finance.
“Data happens everywhere, they are collected over time, and regardless of the source of data, there is a strong need for AI/data analysts to interpret information, make decisions and visualize output,” Santosh said. “USD is meeting the demands of the industry with the AI academic programs.”
Santosh is an expert in AI and started with USD in 2015. Instead of working for massive technology companies like Apple, Meta or Google, he wanted to be an academician.
He said academic researchers don’t have restrictions like corporate companies do and can look 10 years into the future. For example, he said bitcoin; a cryptocurrency – based on a white paper –was invented in 2008 and many years later people made it.
“We are more ambitious,” he said.
Santosh said he saw the potential for USD to grow. He said the state was a minimum of 10 years behind other states in terms of technological advancements. He started to look at how to prepare the workforce using an artificial intelligence program to serve South Dakota. The program was officially announced in 2020 and was first implemented in the fall of 2021.
The school offers both undergraduate and graduate programs in AI, as well as certificates for non-computer science majors, called a data science certificate.
AI is not only for computer scientists. The AI certificate allows individuals to build computational tools to analyze their data they produce in their respective career fields. Instead of having to hire a computer scientist to analyze the data, someone who has the certificate can do the work.
Santosh used a hat as an analogy. A student’s main degree or area of focus is the hat and the AI certificate is a feather.
“Let’s say you’re biology major, that’s the hat, the hat is already beautiful,” he said. “Having a feather in the hat makes you more powerful and confident in your work and you are different from others.”
Santosh said when running a data science-related Kaggle competition, 67 percent of the participants were not computer science majors. He said it shows people are interested and motivated in learning data science, and it is not difficult.
“Let us build our state together, we are not too late,” he said.
The graduate program currently has 159 students and Santosh is anticipating a minimum of 70 additional students in spring 2023.
“Learn the ins and outs of the latest technological developments, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision, pattern recognition, data science, information retrieval, internet of things, cybersecurity and big data,” according to USD’s website.
Suprin Nakarmi is in his second semester of the computer science graduate program. He was attracted to the university because of the artificial intelligence specialization and the work done by Santosh.
Nakarmi said Santosh explained difficult concepts elegantly and he wanted to work with him. Most of the courses Nakarmi is taking are related to AI.
As a native of Nepal, Nakarmi said he likes the way AI could be used in low to middle-income countries to help with basic health checkups and diagnoses.
“If the case is too serious, they can get faster help,” he said.
Computer science and AI are high-paying jobs, with a median salary above $100,000. The top five computer science jobs and salaries are: machine learning engineer at $142,859, data scientist at $126,927, computer vision engineer at $126,400, data warehouse architect at $126,008 and algorithm engineer at $109,313.
Santosh said one student graduating from the AI program in December will work for a company making $105,000 with a $10,500 bonus every year. Another student will work for a company making $129,000 with a $27,000 bonus every year.
An internship offered $66,000 for three months of work to a student.
“Computer science graduates with AI specialization make money more than anybody else on average in the state of South Dakota,” Santosh said.