Created through the merger of three departments, the School of Computer, Data and Information Sciences has an ambitious mission that goes beyond educating the next-generation of “data heads” — although that remains center stage. Computer science is already the largest single major on campus and the new data science major is the fastest growing. Combined with other sequences, CDIS includes about 3,700 students.

Wisconsin could put them all to work … and then some. Erickson said the state has about 6,600 open computing-related jobs today, of which only a fraction will be filled by the combined annual graduates of the state’s post-secondary schools. With such talent in high demand, it’s no surprise the average computing job salary is about $80,000 per year versus $50,000 for a statewide average.

The Department of Computer Sciences at UW-Madison once had a reputation for sending its best and brightest to the Silicon Valley giants and not connecting with Wisconsin businesses. That has changed, with CDIS reaching out to state companies that recognize computing has become an indispensable part of their businesses.

The school has also beefed up its efforts to spur student and faculty entrepreneurism, some of which has been evident in recent angel and venture capital financing of Wisconsin companies.

For example, CDIS recently attracted the internationally known Creative Destruction Lab, which mentors young companies with innovative products and services in the risk, insurance, health and wellness sectors. One veteran investor at the meeting said the CDL is “the best program of its kind” he has seen.