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Urban Computing PhD Certificate Program

The Urban Computing PhD Certificate Program is a DAC led, NSF-funded program focused on big data and urbanization. UrbComp will prepare doctoral students to become interdisciplinary data scientists who will use computational modeling to tackle the challenges faced by urban populations. Students pursuing a Ph.D. from one of eight departments at Virginia Tech: Computer Science, Mathematics, Statistics, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Population Health Sciences, Urban Affairs and Planning, Civil and Environmental Engineering, or Sociology, can participate in the UrbComp program. The program is available to students from both Blacksburg and NCR campuses.

It has been projected that by the year 2030, 6 out of every 10 people will live in a city
 and, by 2050, this proportion is expected to increase to 7 out of 10 people! Key issues concerning
urban populations, such as public health, sustainable use of limited energy resources, emergency preparedness, and societal stability will rise to the forefront in the next two decades. Virginia
Tech proposes the UrbComp NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) PhD Program focused on both foundational and applied aspects of data science to support the study of urban populations. UrbComp will
train data scientists to help realize the promises of unprecedented urbanization.

Key educational innovations in UrbComp include i) a "tapestry" curriculum to support early
weaving of interdisciplinary issues, ii) emphasis on ethical and societal issues for responsible
data science, iii) community building through data analytics competitions, and iv) interactions
with a broad range of urban city professionals, i.e., the end consumers of data science. In particular, the core curriculum for UrbComp students will be organized as a weaving of topics
from "horizontals" (research methods) and "verticals" (applications) courses. Three key verticals
will be emphasized in UrbComp: epidemiology, sustainability, and social science, all key ingredients of urban environments research. UrbComp will support 15 NRT trainees who will receive an NSF stipend and 35 NRT trainees who will not receive an NSF stipend for a total of 50 NRT trainees. All of these trainees will pursue PhD in one of eight home departments.

The goals of UrbComp are to:

  1. Develop a sustainable and scalable infrastructure for interdisciplinary PhD research and graduate education/training in data science for urban computing that can be used as a model within and beyond Virginia Tech,
  2. Deliver an integrative and contextual educational experience to a diverse cohort of PhD students,
  3. Increase the presence of underrepresented doctoral students in science and engineering through recruiting and outreach activities emphasizing urban environments, and
  4. Partner with industries, local city governments (Arlington, VA), and local health departments (Virginia Department of Health) via internships, practicums, data challenges, outreach, and research collaborations.


  • CS 5874: Introduction to Urban Computing
  • CS 6604: Practicum in Urban Computing
  • GRAD 5314: Professionalism in Data Science


For more information, see the Graduate Certificate in Urban Computing page.

UrbComp is directed by Naren Ramakrishnan, Director of DAC and Professor in the Department of Computer Science. Please contact Naren at or Wanawsha Hawrami, UrbComp Program Coordinator, at for more information on the Urban Computing PhD Certificate Program.