LAWRENCE — Information flows around and through all of us, abundant as water, rich as oil. A new data science initiative is empowering students to harness this resource while benefiting Kansas businesses and organizations.
Data science is an interdisciplinary field that refines information into usable data to fuel insights. The field is growing rapidly, and employers seek professionals capable of analyzing, computing and drawing conclusions from data. To expand the state’s data science capabilities, the National Science Foundation Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, EPSCoR, awarded funding earlier this year to a team of researchers and educators from across Kansas. The Kansas Data Science Consortium will incorporate real-world data sets into student learning, and it is seeking community organizations of all types to partner and share data.
“The KDSC created a hub to significantly increase the data science capacity in Kansas,” said Tim Pleskac, principal investigator and professor of psychology at the University of Kansas. “It is a place where Kansas organizations, businesses and municipalities can find data science solutions to the problems they face. The consortium generates these solutions by empowering our students to work on these problems and gain experience in this exciting new field. With the NSF funding we are able to take this approach statewide working with universities and colleges to get students started and connect them with community partners from across the state.”
Educators from KU, Kansas State University and Wichita State University are preparing new courses for the spring: Community Data Labs. These labs will bring together students from various disciplines to hone their data science skills by analyzing real-world information provided by partner organizations. Community partners are businesses, nonprofits and government organizations who will receive data-based solutions, generated by students, free of charge.
The team already has plans for expansion.
“We’re already working with smaller universities and colleges to set them up for participation in a year or two,” said Will Duncan, KU assistant research professor of data science.
These additional partners include public and private institutions, both large and small.
“The idea is that data science spreads,” Duncan said. “It’s important that our work doesn’t focus exclusively on these major college towns who already have resources. We are building a workforce statewide, and we are providing data-based solutions to businesses and organizations statewide.”
Educators, students and community members in areas without partnering educational institutions can still benefit from this programming. The KDSC is also creating an online repository of data science projects and teaching materials that will be publicly available.
The KDSC is funded by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 initiative, called Adaptive and Resilient Infrastructures driven by Social Equity. Through EPSCoR, NSF builds research capacity and workforce development in areas of the country, like Kansas, that receive a lower percentage of federal research funding. The project has two branches. The first is advancing the resilience of infrastructures which all Kansans depend on. The second branch seeks to create a stream of community leaders and decision-makers who will transform how a community invests in and manages its human and physical infrastructure. The KDSC is strengthening the Kansas workforce and improving students' ability to consume and evaluate information and news in their everyday lives.
The KDSC invites organizations and businesses to contact them to get involved in the development of technologies and approaches to refine data science. Partnered community organizations gain access to these innovative tools and can make connections with accomplished graduates. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Abstract image of waving surface with glassy colored fragments emerging, created by AI.