The opening on Monday of a new university facility aimed at collaboration and data science in downtown San Antonio coincided with an announcement that it will partner with a federal agency on the use of data in diverse communities.
Officials with the University of Texas at San Antonio, city and county leaders, philanthropists and developers cut the ceremonial ribbon on San Pedro I, its new $91.8 million National Security Collaboration Center and School of Data Science at 506 Dolorosa St.
Also on Monday, the university announced that it has signed an agreement with the U.S. Census Bureau to collaborate on projects that expand how the agency collects and uses data and work to develop a diverse workforce in data science for the future of the bureau.
Census Bureau Director Robert Santos, who attended the ribbon-cutting event, said he began thinking about such a partnership last year following his swearing-in to lead the federal statistical agency a year ago.
A San Antonio native who graduated from Holy Cross High School, Santos said this is the first partnership of its kind between a university and the bureau, and one he hopes will be “revolutionary.”
“We want our subject matter experts on our staff to work with [UTSA] to understand and engage with folks at the community level so we can find out how data are being used and what is it, if anything, that needs to change in our methods,” he said.
“That way, we can empower the University to be a more powerful community partner, create a better sense of trust with communities that historically have been hard to count,” he added. “And that can lead to better data for their communities and for the nation.”
The partnership will also open doors to internships and career opportunities for UTSA students with the Census, Santos said.
The Census work will provide a case study for understanding how the use of data science directly impacts society, David Mongeau, founding director of the School of Data Science, said in a statement. “More important, the [agreement] provides for hands-on, classroom-to-career training for our students who want to pursue careers across diverse, data science-related fields.”
The bureau has an existing agreement with Bowie State University in Maryland that is less extensive than the UTSA partnership, Santos said. The latest agreement is the first of its kind of what Santos said will be others established at historically Black and Hispanic colleges and universities across the nation.
“We can’t just sit in our offices and spin out datasets or just go out and solicit things from folks — give me your information,” Santos said. “We need to work together with the community and understand things from their perspective and work harder at that, to create that trust and to basically be true to the taxpayer to provide them with data products that really help their communities.”
Five years in the making, the UTSA facility is the first school of data science in Texas, said UTSA President Taylor Eighmy.
“Data … is foundational to national security, cybersecurity, finance, banking, insurance, medicine, health informatics, public health, advanced manufacturing, logistics, supply chains, smart cities,” he said. “And all of these economies and enterprises are essential to the future of San Antonio.”
The five-story building adjacent to the San Pedro Creek Culture Park is a 167,000-square-foot facility with classrooms, laboratories and research space. Four suites and 16 offices are reserved for companies to co-locate in the building.
The building’s ground-floor Graham Weston Conference Center is designed to be a workshop, showcase and competition space. The building also features a café that is open to the public with indoor and outdoor seating along San Pedro Creek.
Uyi Stewart, chief data and technology officer at statistics and social impacts website Data.org, gave a keynote address at a ceremony attended by a larger-than-expected crowd of about 300 people, said university spokeswoman Brooke Crum.
“Progress and change is slow,” Stewart said in response to a comment by developer Graham Weston about the pace of change and advances in technology. “But there are some days when change and progress happen in a big way. And that’s what today is.”
Designed by the San Antonio-based architecture and design firm Overland, San Pedro I is the first project in UTSA’s phased, 10-year plan to expand its footprint in downtown San Antonio.
This summer, the university plans to break ground on another major project known as San Pedro II, a $124 million building dedicated to interdisciplinary and collaborative programs in business, engineering and sciences. It will be designed by Overland and the global firm Gensler on a vacant lot opposite the School of Data Science.