WATERVILLE — It’s not every day that data science and lacrosse appear in the same sentence.

But in what some might call liberal arts fashion, Colby College announced Monday a $2 million gift designated to support the two programs. Trustee Rick McVey, whose two daughters played lacrosse at the school, donated the funds. McVey is the founder and CEO of MarketAxess, a financial technology firm headquartered in New York City. Lane McVey graduated from Colby in 2012, and Grace followed in 2016.

The Waterville college, which enrolls roughly 2,000 undergraduates, plans to use $1.5 million to integrate data science studies into all disciplines, according to a news release. Later it hopes to expand the program, eventually incorporating topics such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing and advanced data visualization. The McVey donation “is expected to yield 15 to 30 courses with substantial data science components over the next five years,” according to Ruth Jackson, Colby’s vice president for communications.

The funds will support student and faculty research as early as this summer.

Rick McVey, a trustee of Colby College, donated $2 million to support the school’s data science curriculum and women’s lacrosse program. The college announced his gift Tuesday. Photo courtesy of MarketAxess

“With the ubiquity of data comes an increased need to understand how to extract useful knowledge from it, which is influencing and advancing every industry — from health professions to financial markets — in significant ways,” Colby officials said in the release. “Colby students are exceptionally prepared to ask complex questions; this initiative will prepare students to be able to answer them.”

The donation comes roughly two months after the college announced a $5 million gift to support biomedical research.

The school now offers a minor in data science, but does not offer classes specific to the department. Students looking to earn a minor in the field take a combination of seven courses from the computer science and mathematics and statistics departments, according to course requirements outlined on the college’s website. Jackson added that several faculty members have incorporated data science into courses outside of the formal program as well.

“Faculty across the curriculum have integrated data science into courses such as the Environmental Studies courses Introduction to GIS and Spatial Analysis and Exploratory Data Analysis in R, and a course on the Science of Baseball by Professor Herb Wilson in biology,” she said. “This initiative will allow us to expand our offerings to even more departments across the college, so that students in disciplines ranging from English to economics are able to work with these important tools.”

McVey said he hopes the data science initiative will equip students to succeed in a variety of professions.

“Data science is gaining such momentum that as savvy students consider fields, they are also considering where technology is going in those fields and how that could influence their future careers,” he said.

MarketAxess has hired a handful of Colby graduates over the years and three from the current senior class, according to the release.

David Greene, the college’s president, said the donation will push Colby in a positive direction.

“We are incredibly fortunate for the vision and generosity of Rick McVey,” he said. “He sees every day the importance of using the analysis of complex data sets to influence decisions, as well as the importance of teamwork and competition in the business world. His gift is making an immediate impact on Colby students, and the skills they develop here will serve them long after they graduate.”

The remaining $500,000 portion of the donation will support the women’s lacrosse team, led by Head Coach Karen MacCrate Henning. The roster for the 2019 season lists 35 players.

“This incredible gift will allow us to fully support our team as we continue to reach for the highest level of excellence on the field,” Henning said. “Our players are so deserving of this, and we are all incredibly grateful to Rick and the McVey family for their loyalty to the Colby women’s lacrosse program. We’ve been privileged to have Lane and Grace continue their involvement through Friends of Lacrosse and mentoring student athletes.”

Under Henning’s 11-year tenure, the team has a record of 144-54. It has made eight appearances in NCAA tournaments and secured two New England Small College Athletic Conference titles, most recently in 2009.

Financial support for the program appears strong. In February, the women’s and men’s lacrosse teams collected at least $37,510 from 180 donors as part of a fundraising challenge for the athletic program. Their collective fund, called Friends of Lacrosse, ranked first in number of participants and fourth in the sum of donations brought in, according to a Colby fundraising campaign site.

Henning did not respond immediately Tuesday to a request for information about how the women’s lacrosse program will use the McVey funds.

 

Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @megrobbins


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