Data science hub to replace Illini Hall


Adam Zhang

By Cori Lippert, Staff Writer

Illini Hall will be demolished and replaced with a new facility, which will house a data science hub and classrooms for the statistics and mathematics departments.

“The new Illini Hall will be a state-of-the-art classroom and research facility focused on creating knowledge through statistics, data analysis and machine learning,” said Matthew Tomaszewski, associate provost for capital planning, in an email.

Tomaszewski said a professional services consultant will help determine the schedule for the project, but there is no definitive timeline right now.

The data science hub will allow universities across Illinois to share and access data about different industries and to test new methods for data analytics. The central data hub is located in Chicago, and it connects to all the major universities in the state.

The data science hub will take up about two floors of the new Illini Hall building and will need space for labs, IT support, research offices and classrooms, said Douglas Simpson, professor in statistics. The building will also feature communication links with Chicago, including wall-sized smart boards that will allow for remote collaborations.

The mathematics and statistics departments have seen growth in instructors and classes over the past decade, said Jeremy Tyson, chair of the Department of Mathematics, in an email.

“Faculty, students and staff have told us for quite some time that the building does not meet the needs of the disciplines. Many systems are failing in the building; the mechanical systems need to be completely replaced and the building envelope is in need of much work,” Tomaszewski said. “Likewise, the interior spaces cannot function in the way that faculty and students need them to for the instruction, advising, research and innovation that is ongoing and envisioned.”

Simpson said the new Illini Hall will allow for more space for both teaching and research.

The new classrooms will be big enough to house the statistics and mathematics classes, and they will also be more interactive, allowing instructors to walk around and check on students as they work with the data provided by the data science hub, Simpson said.

Simpson said additionally, students and faculty from across the University will be able to access and work with the data in the hub for research. 

“We’re working in collaboration with computer science and statistics to develop a new introductory data science course, which will reach out to the entire campus,” Simpson said. “Our mission would be to make some exposure to data science possible for all students.”

The announcement of the data science hub will speed up the rebuilding plans that were already set for Illini Hall, Tyson said.

“(Data science) is really transforming research, wide-ranging-fields machine learning techniques and large-scale data assimilation techniques allow researchers to ask new types of questions whether there working in genomics, or political science, or economics or in English,” Simpson said. “It’s a key moment and I am glad the overall University System is responding to this moment in an aggressive fashion.”

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