Gift Will Create Chair in Data Sciences

Mark and Jennifer McCollum of Houston provided a gift of $3.5 million to create The McCollum Family Chair in Data Sciences within Baylor’s nationally ranked School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS). 

The gift will serve as a cornerstone upon which growth and development of the University’s initiatives
in data sciences will be built, leading to the expansion of Baylor’s service to the surrounding world and providing Baylor undergraduate and graduate students with dynamic opportunities to further their education and open doors to leadership positions in a variety
of careers.

“Jenni and I are extremely thankful for the opportunity to support President Livingstone’s vision for Baylor serving as a preeminent Christian research university,” Mark McCollum said. “We love Baylor, and believe in Baylor’s mission and strategic direction, particularly toward growing Baylor’s capacity and impact in the data sciences due to the field’s promise in benefiting communities around the world.”

Baylor is conducting a national search for a person with a distinguished record as a scholar and teacher to become the inaugural holder of the chair.

One of the five signature academic initiatives of Illuminate, Baylor’s academic strategic plan, the focus on data sciences will enable the creation of a center of research excellence through multidisciplinary scholarship and collaboration with faculty appointments from departments, schools, and external partners. Data sciences is a rapidly advancing field relying on techniques and theories drawn from machine learning, data mining, scalable data storage, and digital communication, as well as the disciplines of statistics, mathematics, and library sciences.

“Through the creation of this endowed chair, Baylor now has the wherewithal to dynamically pursue opportunities in data sciences, both within engineering and computer science as well as collaboratively where biology, statistics, and computer science intersect,” Dr. Dennis O’Neal, ECS dean, said. “As an area of academic research with real-world applications, data sciences is an important and dynamic field, and Baylor’s mission as a Christian research university positions us to make a significant contribution to its development.”

As it builds, Baylor’s data sciences initiative initially will be focused in three complementary areas: biomedical informatics, cybersecurity, and business analytics. Ethical uses of large-scale data will be an overarching theme that permeates all facets of work. Faculty and students will interact with producers of data, both on and off campus, and develop new methods to manage and interpret life science data, enterprise scale business data, and data from other domains, as well as establish best practices for data analytics, integration, management, and security. Baylor will address the mounting need for dynamic and rapid data analytics that spans virtually all major research emphases on campus, recognizing that data sciences is the field that can drive all others.

“As Baylor alumni and the parents of a Baylor graduate, Mark and Jenni McCollum are passionate members of the Baylor Family and exemplify the Baylor spirit,” Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone, PhD, said. “Their mission-oriented approach to philanthropy has guided them toward making this transformational gift to advance Baylor’s leadership in the field of data sciences. Mark and Jennifer are wonderful champions for our students, and we are honored that they have chosen to come alongside us in an area we believe will have a lasting impact on the world through research and creating leaders in a rapidly advancing, interdisciplinary field.”

Mark McCollum, BBA ’80, is a Texas CPA and president and CEO of Weatherford International plc, one of the largest multinational oilfield service companies. A member of the Baylor Board of Regents since 2011, he also serves on the Board of Advocates for Baylor’s ECS and on the Board of Trustees for Baylor College of Medicine.

Jennifer McCollum, BSEd ’80, has served on Baylor’s School of Education Advisory Board and is a member of the Baylor Women’s Network of Houston. She also earned a master’s in educational psychology from the University of Houston in 1982.

Through previous gifts, they have supported areas ranging from scholarships for education students and basketball student-athletes to the Baylor in Brazil program and University-sponsored missions trips.