I had the pleasure of being part of the launch of the new SAS Lab at the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Lisbon, Portugal. There are several SAS Labs at universities around the world, including a new one that has just opened in Romania <link to Alina’s article>. However, this is something of a flagship because the University of Lisbon is the biggest university in Portugal, hosting perhaps a quarter of all students in the country.
But what exactly is a SAS Lab, and why do they matter?
SAS Labs are set up to provide students and others with access to state-of-the-art data analysis software, so that they can learn and develop data science skills. The lab is open to students, teachers and researchers at the university. However, it is also designed as a facility for the wider community, available to employees of SAS clients and partners. As well as access to software, the lab provides training sessions and workshops about using SAS On Demand for Academics or SAS Viya for Learners, which are provided free of charge for lab users.
SAS Labs are an important and visible sign of SAS’s close relationship and long history with the academic world. However, there is more to the collaboration than simply developing a relationship. Students are the data scientists of the future: the next generation. Ensuring that they—and those who teach them—have access to up-to-date technology and analytics software is crucial to developing the future data science workforce. We know that there is a worldwide shortage of data scientists, so this is part of SAS doing its bit to help close the gap between supply and demand.
A resource for the university
The main objective of SAS Labs is to create a space where people can share knowledge about SAS. This space will be used by students and professors who want to know more about analytics in general and SAS in particular. However, the access to computers and software is not the only facility. At the University of Lisbon, the room itself is designed so that it can be used for presentations or as a classroom.
This underlines the importance of data scientists being able to communicate their findings, which is reinforced in the teaching at the university. For example, Ricardo Galante, who works in Customer Advisory at SAS, and is also an invited professor on the Practical Statistics and Data Science course at the University of Lisbon, has previously held data science competitions for students. These culminated in the students presenting their work to external ‘judges’. The competition was set up as a business problem, and the students were invited to present their findings as if to a company board. The lab is big enough to hold around 50 people, making it a useful space for these purposes. If you can read Portuguese you should view the blogpost by Ricardo here.
The future for the SAS Lab
Over time, we see the Lisbon SAS Lab having three main purposes. The first is as a venue for scientific or academic events and meetings, either for students, or hosted by the university for a broader audience. It could also be a location and resource for workshops for students and university staff, and for executive training for SAS partners and clients, and others if there is interest. The third use is perhaps more nebulous: for knowledge sharing and mentoring. We hope that students will use the SAS Lab as a space to study and to share knowledge. SAS will also provide regular mentoring sessions at the lab for both students and teachers or trainers. We also have plans to use the space to host a summer school on programming this year—an idea that was stimulated by some of the students expressing an interest in learning more about coding.
Fundamentally, we hope that providing the SAS Lab at the university will stimulate interest in data science and in SAS in particular. For example, at the launch event, I met several professors at the university who did not know about SAS, but were interested to see how they could incorporate it into their classes. We are also planning to use events like the Curiosity Cup to raise awareness about data science and the SAS Lab. Over time, perhaps more lecturers and teachers will get involved in data science work, and the word will spread. We may even attract interest from other universities—and maybe that will lead to more SAS Labs being set up in future. Whatever the future holds, it seems very positive.
The success of the SAS Lab depends on your collaboration
Students and teaching staff of the University of Lisbon and SAS employees worked together to create the SAS Lab. The first events have taken place. Now we will start to widen the scope of the events to mentoring for certification preparation, seminars, case study workshops and more. We will serve the academic community at the University of Lisbon in the SAS Lab and when possible, we will allow online participation by the wider national and international academic community. To make the SAS Lab a success we need your collaboration. Please share your ideas, input and suggestions with us by sending an email to email@example.com.
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