August 30, 2021

Greta Binford and Colleagues Land Collaborative NSF Grant for Data Science

  • Greta Binford

The National Science Foundation has awarded a three-year collaborative grant to Lewis & Clark College ($528K) and the University of Arizona ($867K) for the project entitled, “Collaborative Research: HDR DSC: Building Capacity in Data Science through Biodiversity, Conservation, and General Education.” Together with UA Co-PIs Katy Prudic and Jeffrey Oliver, Professor and Chair of Biology Greta Binford spearheaded this proposed project, which will develop a multi-institutional Data Science Corps (DSC) program to strengthen and build new networks for data science education.

NSF’s Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR): Data Science Corps (DSC) program combines a “national-scale activity to enable new modes of data-driven discovery that will allow fundamental questions to be asked and answered at the frontiers of science and engineering.” As part of the HDR vision, DSC is designed to enable education and workforce development by building capacity. Specifically, DSC is intended to “provide practical experiences, teach new skills, and offer learning opportunities in different settings.”

Indeed, this project brings together a large, Research I university (University of Arizona) and a smaller, primarily undergraduate liberal arts institution (Lewis & Clark) to develop scalable, portable data science education and a strong, inclusive data science infrastructure. The overarching idea is that introducing data science in general education curriculum focused on popular narratives such as biodiversity and conservation, and providing opportunities for experiential learning across life sciences and conservation biology curricula, will inspire and incentivize student investment in data science skills. The predicted outcomes include improved student learning and more students persisting in the application of data science to answer questions of interest. The primary aims of this collaborative project are to: 1) introduce students to data science early in their careers, and in a context that is meaningful to them, 2) provide opportunities for students to apply data science to real-world challenges, and 3) integrate data science training into existing, already crowded STEM undergraduate programs. Combined with reskilling faculty for increased instructional capacity, these grant-funded efforts will ultimately prepare more students for data science careers in the life sciences and beyond.

The proposed project activities will build upon Dr. Binford’s own teaching and research expertise, and be well integrated into both existing and new programs in the College of Arts & Sciences—including but not limited to Numbers, the biology curriculum, Watzek Library’s data and digital services, and the new data science minor. In collaboration with Dr. Binford, Parvaneh Abbaspour, Science & Data Services Librarian and Jeremy McWilliams, Head of Digital Services, will play key roles in the successful execution of this project. Further, this funding will support a new part-time Data Science Specialist position, undergraduate peer tutors, and training opportunities for faculty across all disciplines, as well as a postdoctoral data science scholar at UA who will also spend time at Lewis & Clark.

August 2021