Belmont to Invest $60 Million Over Five Years in New Data Initiative

Led by Executive Director Charlie Apigian, Belmont Data Collaborative to provide industries, corporations, nonprofits with resources to navigate data-driven world

Dr. Charlie Apigian head shot

With a vision to become “a globally recognized source of morally-grounded data fluency,” Belmont University announced today the launch of the new Belmont Data Collaborative (BDC). The BDC will serve Belmont students and working professionals by delivering curricula and programming to help fill the ever-evolving need for data skills in nearly every workforce environment. The BDC will also partner with companies and nonprofits across a variety of fields to consult and collaborate on data-related needs and to offer exploratory analysis and internships. Dr. Charlie Apigian, formerly the founding director of the Data Science Institute at Middle Tennessee State University, will serve as the executive director of the BDC as well as a professor of business system and analytics.

Belmont President Dr. Greg Jones said, “Belmont is the perfect home for a future-shaping effort that unites academia and industry in approaching data because our mission involves seeking solutions for complex problems in order to help people and communities flourish. As the ‘data-tization’ of our world becomes ever more pervasive, we have an opportunity to harness data for good, allowing it to drive the kind of decision-making that can produce positive impacts on society’s ‘wicked problems’ and inform change. Furthermore, Belmont’s Christ-centered mission distinctively equips us to examine questions around the ethical uses of data and incorporate those conversations into educating and forming individuals, businesses and communities.”

A collaboration across programs and colleges on Belmont’s campus as well as with a host of Middle Tennessee companies, the BDC is intent on integrating data fluency with moral, ethical and social responsibility. Belmont intends to invest more than $60 million in establishing the BDC over the next five years as a hub for collaboration and education to:

  • Develop a diverse community of leaders who will bring an ethical compass to data use;
  • Meet the cultural and corporate demand for data fluency;
  • Create an evolving portfolio of degree and continuing education programs to provide broad-based data literacy for students and working professionals across all fields;
  • Serve as a resource for Nashville through academic-community partnerships and specialize in key industries, including health services, music/entertainment and entrepreneurship.

The BDC was developed by a committee of Belmont deans, faculty and technology officers along with Nashville industry representatives Tod Fetherling (founder/chief data scientist, Perception Health) and John Liu (CEO/founder, Intelluron Corporation). Input was also solicited from Belmont’s Business Systems and Analytics Advisory Board, which includes representatives from Amazon, HCA Healthcare, Tractor Supply, AllianceBernstein, The Mechanical Licensing Collective, Cat Financial, HealthTrust, Schneider Electric, Nissan North America and more.

New BDC Executive Director Dr. Charlie Apigian added, “The Belmont Data Collaborative is an opportunity to infuse data skills into the fabric of all majors and disciplines at Belmont. The greatest need isn’t just for the next cohort of data scientists; it’s for data-driven problem solvers in every field. We can help individuals and companies ‘think differently about data’ so that it can be actionable and instrumental in solving problems and be used in a responsible and ethical way.”

In his previous role at MTSU’s Data Science Institute, Apigian was charged with building partnerships with industry, communities, government and other entities on big data projects while engaging faculty and students for projects and programs that spanned the campus. His work included funded projects and research with the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Science Foundation along with partnerships with Hytch Rewards, Second Harvest Food Bank, Tennessee Department of Human Services, Project Maslow and Special Kids, Inc. A 20-year faculty member, frequent author and respected presenter/speaker, Apigian received the 2020 Data Scientist of the Year Award and the 2018 Community Leader of the Year Award from the Nashville Technology Council.

Brian Moyer, president and CEO of the Greater Nashville Technology Council said, “Business reliance on technology to remain competitive is accelerating demand for data science as the technology of the future. Data fluency is one of the most sought after skills today, and that trend is only going to increase. The timing could not be better for the launch of BDC, and I can’t think of anyone better qualified to lead that effort than Charlie Apigian. This initiative aligns perfectly with NTC’s mission to ‘lead Nashville into the world that is becoming,’ and we look forward to working with Belmont and Charlie as we continue to grow our tech workforce.” 

In addition to coordinating co-curricular activities and working with faculty across Belmont’s 13 colleges and adult education programs, Apigian will continue to build relationships with corporations and nonprofits throughout the Nashville region. His initial efforts will also include a focus on diversity as the BDC aims to encourage more women and minorities to explore data and technology fields. As part of that initial effort, the BDC will serve as a sponsor of the upcoming Aug. 31 “Can You Hear Me? Succeeding in Data Science” seminar, which is co-hosted by Blacks In Technology Nashville (BIT) and Women in Technology Tennessee (WiTT).

In the future, Belmont plans to develop an intentional, collaborative physical space for the BDC to serve as an accessible, centralized resource for companies, working professionals, nonprofits and the community in addition to the University’s undergraduate and graduate students.