Dr. Douglas Hague is the founding Executive Director of the School of Data Science. He comes to UNC Charlotte with deep experience in the financial services and telecommunications industries. Prior to joining the university, Dr. Hague was Chief Analytics Officer for Bank of America's Merchant Services division. He also chaired for UNC Charlotte's industry advisory board for the Data Science Initiative. Dr. Hague has authored 18 articles published in academic and professional journals and holds four patents.
Why did you join the School of Data Science?
I joined the School of Data Science to be involved in a critical field that needs to expand beyond computer science and statistics and be applied to almost every field of study. I love the diversity of problems, subjects, and discussions that I’m involved in every day. From the latest neural networks and how to explain their predictions, to how to use data to improve community outreach and economic mobility in Charlotte. From COVID-19 forecasting and the disparate impacts that are arising, to the latest advertising methods in social media. These are all fascinating topics to me.
Why did you join UNC Charlotte?
I wanted to give back to university students as I was once provided the support long ago. My family had always emphasized a college education, but as the fourth child in a lower income family, the scholarships and work study that I received throughout my 12 years of college (yes that is right, I loved going to school) puts the responsibility on me to provide what I can for others. I’ve lived in Charlotte for nearly 15 years and this is home now. UNC Charlotte was the obvious choice for me.
What does your current role involve?
My current role is focused on the administration of the School of Data Science. In reality, that means I do and decide on whatever comes up during a day. I teach a few courses in the DSBA graduate program, and ensure our staff has adequate support to do their jobs effectively. I also support the faculty to accomplish their goals in teaching, research, and service to the communities that they are involved in. We have a wonderful and talented staff and faculty and it is my honor to lead them within the School. I also have the pleasure of being in four colleges at once so that keeps me hopping around campus!
How much has the study of data science changed over the last decade?
Two primary changes have occurred. First, the continuous evolution of computing power. This has enabled ever larger data sets and more involved computers to be utilized. Data is everywhere in our society now. Data Science is the way to capture and appropriately utilize the data for the benefit of society and our economy. Note, I intentionally included the word appropriate as this is the second change in data science.
The emphasis on the ethics and implications of what data enables has become much more prevalent. There have been mistakes and things that become much more visible when society uses all the data available. Not all uses have been within what society considers fair and appropriate. The explosion of disinformation and misinformation (aka Fake News) is just one of the more thing in the news.
What industry experience do you have?
I worked for more than 20 years in large corporations before coming to UNC Charlotte. I worked on the research, manufacturing, and design of jet engines, our communications networks including phone, wireless, and the Internet, and finally in a very large financial institution in Charlotte where I led the data science and analytics teams across several functions. My last role before coming to UNC Charlotte was as Chief Analytics Officer of a joint venture owned by a large bank.
What are the biggest ethical issues facing data science today?
To me, there are three areas that I’d like to see data science focus on. First, using data science to help understand and suggest the best ways to intervene in the societal inequities and areas where there are large disparate impacts of our policies.
Second, teaching the world to ask the question should we, instead of can we. Data science enables us to understand, influence and inform large swaths of society that may not know or understand how information is being used to influence them. We need practitioners to ask the right question around ethics before a project moves forward, instead of after someone recognizes that something may not be right.
Finally, the third issue is ensuring all of society benefits from the explosive growth in data science. Data science can lead to greater inequities if not managed well. There are many concerns about artificial intelligence replacing people’s jobs. What is the future of work and how does everyone benefit from the continuous improvements that data science enables is a key issue to resolve. Not focusing on this will drive even larger inequities and income disparities within our world.
What is most rewarding about your leadership in the School of Data Science?
Working with the students, staff, and faculty to enable a better future across the wide range of topics keeps me excited about work each day.
Describe your major area of expertise as a faculty member
I have a couple areas that I am researching and publishing in (when I have the time). First, is sports analytics, particularly high school track and field. Predicting how young adults improve and the factors influencing their performance was a hobby that I now get to work on a bit more.
Second is the area of bias and fairness within data science. I cannot say I am an expert in this field yet, but it is an area that I’m delving into. I am especially focused on how a company may integrate controls and questions of model bias and fairness into their business process. This blends an interesting topic with my corporate experience. There are, of course, other fields I will investigate because I’m at a university now, like nanotechnology (my Ph.D. field), autonomous cars (because I think it is fun), and community engagement which I’m so far out of my comfort zone that I’m totally leaning on our current faculty to educate me on what to even think about.
In the end, as I think of my expertise, I think I am best when I work with people to bring very disparate subject areas together to think in new ways. This is often called interdisciplinary research and is at the heart of data science.