Alumni brothers create professorship in data science to attract top talent

By Amber Stark

Brothers Ernie and Gene Novak both chose Bowling Green State University for their master’s degrees in accounting. Now, more than 40 years later, they are choosing BGSU again by creating the Novak Family Distinguished Professorship in Data Science.

A distinguished professorship, the highest academic honor that BGSU can bestow upon a faculty member, is an incentive to attract and retain eminent educators. This professorship will be directed to the data science and analytics area that best serves the needs and interests of the University. Dr. Trent Buskirk is the inaugural Novak Family Distinguished Professor.

“It’s very easy to look back over my time spent at BGSU and feel a direct sense of gratitude and responsibility for all they did,” said Gene Novak ’74. “Now that I’ve had the chance to be reintroduced to Bowling Green, it’s easy to want to give back. This is a small way to make sure opportunities are there for students today to become great leaders.”

Data science integrates math, statistics and computer science to prepare students for the rapidly expanding need for professionals with these skills in fields ranging from health care and telecommunications to insurance and retail and everything in between. Data scientists clean, massage, organize and analyze massive amounts of data to help businesses and organizations operate more effectively and better serve their consumers.

Now that I’ve had the chance to be reintroduced to Bowling Green, it’s easy to want to give back.

“Data science and analysis is applicable to so many different areas,” said Ernie Novak ’69. “It’s the next big wave and an area I’m excited about.”

Gene Novak added, “Data and metrics are very important in our businesses. People are understanding that data is an important component of business solutions. Certainly, other things are part of the solution – judgment and experience are key elements in making business decisions – but you can avoid making mistakes with accurate data. Data science and analysis will continue to be a growing part of bringing improvement to process and service going forward.”

Gene Novak was chief financial officer and executive vice president for SIRVA Relocation prior to cofounding Dwellworks LLC, where he was responsible for all aspects of finance and accounting, as well as oversight of the administrative, human resources and information technology functions. Ernie Novak retired in 2003 as managing partner of the Cleveland office of Ernst & Young. He had held that position since 1998 and had been a partner since 1980.

Both Novaks have given back to BGSU over the years, with gifts to the accounting and management of information systems departments, the Excellence Fund, the College of Business Administration General Scholarship Fund and the Alumni Fund. This new gift will be used to recruit new faculty or distinguish currently employed faculty members upon submission of a proposal for external funding for a high-risk, high-reward project or a proposal for an innovative research project.

“Reflecting back on Bowling Green, there are three or four professors that still make me smile when I think of them because of how they impacted me,” said Ernie Novak, who served as the August 2014 University commencement speaker. “I hope that the recipients of this professorship impact students the same way.”