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Midwest Big Data Hub successfully transitions to second phase with new NSF award

The National Science Foundation (NSF) this month announced the second phase of funding for the regional Big Data Innovation Hub (BD Hubs) program. Under the planned four year, $4 million award, the Midwest Big Data Hub will continue to be led from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The Hub’s priority focus areas will be co-led by five partner institutions in the region: Indiana University, Iowa State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, and the University of North Dakota.

First funded in 2015, the four regional BD Hubs were designed by NSF to follow U.S. Census Regions, with offices in the Midwest (led by Illinois), West (UC Berkeley), South (Georgia Tech and UNC Chapel Hill) and the Northeast (Columbia University). The Midwest Hub serves a 12-state region that encompasses Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

“Developing innovative, effective solutions to grand challenges requires linking scientists and engineers with local communities,” said Jim Kurose, Assistant Director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering at the National Science Foundation, which funded these awards. “The Big Data Hubs provide the glue to achieve those links, bringing together teams of data science researchers with cities, municipalities and anchor institutions.”

“The Midwest Big Data Hub has built a strong network of partners and a diverse community of stakeholders in the region,” said Bill Gropp, Principal Investigator for the award. “The Hub is well positioned to continue its record of fostering innovative partnerships and providing valued services to our stakeholders in its next phase. Our partner institutions are leaders in the region, and each brings unique strengths to the priority areas they lead.”

The Midwest Hub’s priority areas currently include:

  • Advanced Materials and Manufacturing – Led by the University of Illinois, this area focuses on next-generation materials research in a manufacturing context, and complements the 2016 NSF Big Data Spoke awards on integrative materials design (iMaD) to Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, University of Wisconsin – Madison, and the University of Michigan, as well as leveraging existing partnerships with the Materials Data Facility, the nanoMFG node at UIUC, and the Center for Hierarchical Materials Design (CHiMaD) at Northwestern University, all supported by NSF.
  • Water Quality – Led by a new Phase 2 partner, the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, this area complements the existing water cyberinfrastructure focus of the MBDH through the NSF Big Data Spoke awards made in 2018 to Iowa State University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Iowa.
  • Big Data in Health – The University of Michigan will continue to lead this area, with contributions from Indiana University, building on prior work in Phase 1 as well as the Spoke awards for the Advanced Computational Neuroscience Network (ACNN).
  • Digital Agriculture – Iowa State University will lead this area, with continuing contributions from the University of North Dakota, the University of Nebraska, the University of Illinois, and other partners, including from the 2016 Spoke award for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Plant Sciences and Education (UASPSE), to continue to build a vibrant stakeholder community engaged with transdisciplinary issues around data for agriculture, food production and plant and animal science.
  • Smart, Connected, and Resilient Communities – Led by Indiana University with contributions from Iowa State University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Illinois, this area continues to build a network and connect resources at the intersection between research and data-driven community decision-making.  

“By catalyzing partnerships that integrate academic researchers into the fabric of communities across the U.S., we can accelerate and deepen the impact of basic research on a range of societal issues, from water management to efficient transportation systems,” said Beth Plale, one of the National Science Foundation program directors managing the Big Data Hubs awards.

The Midwest Hub also leads cross-cutting initiatives for broadening participation in data science education, cyberinfrastructure for research data management, and cybersecurity issues around big data. MBDH participates in the BD Hubs Data Sharing and Cyberinfrastructure Working Group, the Open Storage Network, and other initiatives that foster access to research data under FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, reuseable) principles. By leading initiatives in data science education and workforce development, the MBDH aims to increase data science capacity within the region, in part through a growing network of Predominantly Undergraduate Institutions and Minority Serving Institutions.

The Midwest Big Data Hub was initially funded under NSF award # 1550320. The phase 2 award is # 1916613.

Explore the Hub at http://MidwestBigDataHub.org

Learn more about the BD Hubs ecosystem at http://BigDataHubs.org

The MBDH project office is housed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), which provides computing, data, networking, and visualization resources and expertise that help scientists and engineers across the country better understand and improve our world. NCSA is an interdisciplinary hub and is engaged in research and education collaborations with colleagues and students across the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

For interview requests, general questions, copyright permission and B-roll inquiries contact: publicaffairs@ncsa.illinois.edu.

National Science Foundation (NSF) media contact: media@nsf.gov

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Midwest Big Data Hub co-leads local events for 4th Annual Global Women in Data Science Conference

The Midwest Big Data Hub co-led local participation in the 4th annual Global Women in Data Science (WiDS) Conference, with sponsorship from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and the University of Illinois. The event was free and open to all. The WiDS Conference, hosted on March 4th at 150 locations around the world, seeks to unite and connect women working in data science fields.

“We were very excited to co-sponsor this with NCSA, and support this inaugural Illinois event for Stanford’s Global Women in Data Science Day,” said Melissa Cragin, Executive Director of the Midwest Big Data Hub. “Partnering with others on events such as the Illinois WiDS allows us to best use our human resources and experts network to broaden participation in data science and Big Data research and education. I was honored to participate and have the opportunity to moderate such a terrific panel of accomplished leaders, who shared their perspectives on data science, data-enabled research, and opportunities for women in this space.”

panel discussion
Faculty panel moderated by MBDH Executive Director Melissa Cragin

The WiDS local events, hosted this year at NCSA, featured a variety of speakers from diverse backgrounds presenting sessions on opportunities for women in data science, technical vision talks, and the variety of data science and technology careers available in the Midwest.

“I always enjoy telling my story about how I got started working big data research,” said Ruby Mendenhall, Illinois Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies and NCSA faculty affiliate. “My story also demonstrates the importance of doing outreach to groups that are not traditionally represented in data science such as African American Studies.”

As part of her 2017-2018 NCSA Faculty Fellowship, Mendenhall and NCSA research programmer Kiel Gilleade completed a pilot study called the Chicago Stress Study that examines how the exposure to nearby gun crimes impacted African American mothers living in Englewood, Chicago. Mendenhall and Gilleade developed a mobile health study which used wearable biosensors to document 12 women’s lived experiences for one month last fall. As part of their research, Mendenhall, Gilleade, and their team were able to create an exhibit based on the study data they collected in order to bring the unheard, day-to-day stories of these mothers to life.

panel discussion
Panel discussion moderated by iSchool Professor Catherine Blake

Professor Donna Cox, Director of NCSA’s Advanced Visualization Lab, was a panelist at this year’s local conference, and praised the insights of the other speakers while emphasizing the importance of the larger WiDS conference. “It was valuable to hear other panelists,” said Cox. “The future of Women in Data Science should include raising awareness about important issues emerging in data science, especially socially-relevant issues. We need more women actively involved in the ethics of data science.”

Alice Delage, Associate Project Manager for NCSA and Program Coordinator for the MBDH, said, “Hosting WiDS Urbana-Champaign at Illinois was an opportunity to highlight the campus expertise around data science led by women.” Delage, who co-chairs the local Women@NCSA group, said, “Data science and technologies are increasingly impacting our lives and society, and it is imperative that women and minorities be part of these transformations. We wanted to showcase the groundbreaking work being done in that area by Illinois female data scientists and to inspire more women and underrepresented communities to engage in the field.”

There are also opportunities to expand the event next year by better incorporating student work in the program, Delage said, or running a datathon, for example. Some of this year’s participants have already volunteered to help with next year’s event.

A full list of this year’s speakers at the WiDS Conference at NCSA is here. For more information about the global WiDS conference and ways to get involved, please visit https://www.widsconference.org.

The MBDH is one of four regional Big Data Innovation Hubs with support from the National Science Foundation (award # 1550320), and works to build capacity and skills in the use of data science methods and resources in the 12-state U.S. Midwest Census region. Learn more about the Hub at http://midwestbigdatahub.org.

Thanks to NCSA Public Affairs for contributing to an earlier draft of this post.

BD Hubs profiled in SIGNAL magazine

The NSF-funded Big Data Innovation Hubs were highlighted in a recent article in SIGNAL magazine, a publication of the AFCEA (Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association). The Executive Directors of the Midwest and Northeast Big Data Hubs, Melissa Cragin and René Baston, were quoted extensively from interviews that covered the wide-ranging communities and activities of the Hubs. Here is an excerpt from the article:

“[W]hile we’re called the Big Data Innovation Hubs, we’re very focused on building capacity in data science, building expertise, access to data-related services and networks related to all things data science,” said Cragin.

That means making available “to all kinds of communities” access to data-related skills, services, tools and opportunities, Cragin states. By developing public/private partnerships and working with groups to leverage these resources, the hubs can help coordinate solutions to “shared grand challenges,” she notes. The hub also is endeavouring to extend data science research and education to predominantly undergraduate institutions—including minority-serving institutions—to help add data skills for the developing workforce, she states.

The regional aspect allows each hub to identify priority areas or “spokes” that they are pursuing. For the Midwest, issues relating to water quality; digital agriculture and unmanned aerial systems; and food, energy and water, among others, play a major role.

Read the full article here.

Guest post – Diverse programs from ISU address sustainable cities challenges

By Iowa State University’s Sustainable Cities team

Researchers with the Sustainable Cities team at Iowa State University recognize the difficulty that public officials face in transforming vast amounts of climate and energy research into contextualized public policy. In attempting to address this critical issue, the team’s mission goes beyond the creation of new climate analysis tools to also investigate new methods for integrating communities into the discourse of data creation and energy conservation. To accomplish this agenda, our team engages in various research avenues that range from the creation of new spatial-data tools to enabling community youth activism. Here are just a few highlights of the team’s most recent achievements:

Sustainable Cities’ team leader Ulrike Passe, associate professor of architecture, presented our hybrid physics data modeling framework at the National Science Foundation-sponsored Research Coordination Networking (RCN) workshop held at Carnegie Mellon University on May 17, 2018. The presentation, which capstones one of the major branches of the Sustainable Cities initiatives, demonstrated the integration of our recently developed thermo-physical data simulator with our research into human energy-use behavior to demonstrate how a more holistic neighborhood energy model could be constructed. This same model was presented by graduate research assistant Himanshu Sharma at the fifth High Performance Building’s Conference on July 9, 2018, at Purdue University.

image from Krejci et al. (2016)

The Community Growers Program, a public-engagement initiative started back in March of 2017, has become another core pillar of the Sustainable Cities group research. Spanning a course of eight weeks, researchers worked with 22 leadership-minded youth in the Baker Chapter of the Boys and Girls Club at Hiatt Middle School in Des Moines, Iowa, to create a community garden based on a methodology of spatial, socio-technical storytelling. Through this process, the youth participants were able to learn more about their community through access to geographic information system (GIS) and spatial mapping tools. Associate English professor Linda Shenk, our community engagement lead, and Mallory Riesberg, a collaborator with the Baker Chapter of the Boys and Girls Club, presented this methodology in a presentation titled, “Fostering the Next Generation of Big Data Scientists and Sustainable City Planners” at The Growing Sustainable Communities Conference in Dubuque, Iowa, on Oct. 4, 2017. Team members Linda Shenk, Passe and Alenka Poplin, assistant professor of community and regional planning, would later be published in the 35th Journal of Interaction Design and Architectures for the inclusion of this work in their entry, titled, Engaging Youth with Pervasive Technologies for Resilient Communities.

Poplin, an established researcher in the field of geo-spatial mapping, also leads a research group that seeks to understand how to better develop feedback loops through innovative user-interfaces. An inquiry into mapping places of emotional power was highlighted in a 2017 paper entry to the second edition of Kartographische Nachrichten on Empirical Cartography Journal, titled, “Mapping Expressed Emotions: Empirical Experiments on Power Places.” More recently, Poplin and her researcher team have begun testing an energy survey game they have developed called E-Footprints. The framework of this game includes the extraction of user-performance data to measure and analyze what learning opportunities may help guide more environmentally efficient decision making. This feedback is then generated back into learning mini-games throughout the game, such that the user gets more “energy savvy” as they play. This project begins field-testing in November 2018.

With a diverse, multifaceted research team of nearly 50 members, the Sustainable Cities group continues to advance the capabilities of communities and cities to think sustainably about a better future.

 

Image reference:

Krejci, C. C., Passe, U., Dorneich, M. C., & Peters, N. (2016), “A Hybrid Simulation Model for Urban Weatherization Programs”, Proceedings of the 2016 Winter Simulation Conference, Arlington, VA, December 11–14. T. M. K. Roeder, P. I. Frazier, R. Szechtman, E. Zhou, T. Huschka, and S. E. Chick, eds. (pdf)

 

Read more about the MBDH’s Smart, Connected, and Resilient Communities initiatives.

Guest post – Data Science Education at Two-Year Colleges

By Matt Fall

Executive Director, Center for Data Science, Lansing Community College

Recently, the American Statistical Association (ASA), with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), hosted a two-day summit in Washington D.C. to discuss outcomes and curricula for data science programs at two-year colleges. The Two-Year College Data Science Summit (TYCDSS) was intended to help spur the growth of data science programs at these institutions and included representatives from two and four-year institutions, government, and industry.

Sallie Keller (Virginia Tech) plenary talk (photo: Nicholas Horton)

The summit included several plenary talks discussing the role of two-year colleges in addressing the need for data scientists as well as a brief presentation from a graduate of a community college data science program. The majority of the summit, however, was devoted to a series of working sessions where the participants discussed ideal outcomes and competencies for three categories of students:

  • Category 1: students intending to complete an Associate’s degree and begin working
  • Category 2: students intending to earn an Associate’s degree and transfer to a 4-year program
  • Category 3: students seeking a certificate

The working discussions provided an opportunity for the summit participants to discuss what was expected and feasible for a student from each category to complete. The discussions were captured by a designated writing group and there will be a forthcoming write-up summarizing the recommendations of the summit participants with guidelines for two-year college data science programs.

This summit was particularly timely for my colleagues at Lansing Community College (LCC) as we have recently begun development of a data science program. Prior to the summit, participants were provided access to a list of resources that included relevant research, reports from related workshops, and sample syllabi. Of particular interest to us, as we design the layout of our program, were the Park City Math Institute’s Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Programs in Data Science (2016) [PDF], the Oceans of Data Profile of the Data Practitioner (2016), and the Oceans of Data workshop report on Building Global Interest in Data Literacy (2016). The resources provided, candid discussions with other two-year colleges regarding their programs, and the discussions about realistic competency expectations were also of interest and informative to our program design.

The intent of the TYCDSS directly supports the MBDH’s priority area of interest in data science, education and workforce development. Two-year colleges provide higher education accessibility to many students who could not or would not otherwise pursue an advanced degree. An increasing number of these schools are offering certificate and Associate’s degree programs in data science and analytics to support growing workforce demand. Growth in these types of programs should naturally lead to an increase in data competency, enrollment in university programs, and larger hiring pools for data science based careers.

Related information:

Guest post – URSSI: Conceptualizing a US Research Software Sustainability Institute

First URSSI workshop attendees (Credit: Mike Hucka)

Contributed by Daniel S. KatzJeff CarverSandra GesingKarthik RamNic Weber

 

The NSF-funded conceptualization of a US Research Software Sustainability Institute (URSSI) is making the case for and planning a possible institute to improve science and engineering research by supporting the development and sustainability of research software in the US.

Research software is essential to progress in the sciences, engineering, humanities, and all other fields. In many fields, research software is produced within academia, by academics who range in experience and status from students and postdocs to staff members and faculty. Although much research software is developed in academia, important components are also developed in national laboratories and industry. Wherever research software is created and maintained, it can be open source (most likely in academia and national laboratories) or commercial/closed source (most likely in industry, although industry also produces and contributes to open source.)

The open source movement has created a tremendous variety of software, including software used for research and software produced in academia. This plethora of solutions is not easy for researchers to find and use out-of-the-box. Standards and a platform for categorizing software for communities are lacking, which often leads to novel developments rather than reuse of solutions. Three primary classes of concern are pervasive across research software in all research disciplines and have stymied research software from achieving maximum impact:

  • Functioning of the individual and team: issues such as training and education, ensuring appropriate credit for software development, enabling publication pathways for research software including novel methods beyond “classical” academic publications, fostering satisfactory and rewarding career paths for people who develop and maintain software, increasing the participation of underrepresented groups in software engineering, and creating and sustaining pipelines of diverse developers.
  • Functioning of the research software: supporting sustainability of the software; growing community, evolving governance, and developing relationships between organizations, both academic and industrial; fostering both testing and reproducibility, supporting new models and developments (for example, agile web frameworks, software as a service), and supporting contributions of transient contributors (for example, students).
  • Functioning of the research field itself: growing communities around research software and disparate user requirements, avoiding siloed developments, cataloging extant and necessary software, disseminating new developments, and training researchers in the usage of software.

The goal of this conceptualization project is to create a roadmap for a URSSI to minimize or at least decrease these types of concerns. To do this, the two aims of the URSSI conceptualization are to:

  1. Bring the research software community together to determine how to address the issues about which we have already learned. In some cases, there are already subcommunities working together on a specific problem, including those that we are part of, but those subcommunities might not be working with the larger community. This leads to a risk of developing solutions that solve one issue but don’t reduce (or might even deepen) other concerns.
  2. Identify additional issues URSSI should address, identify communities for whom these issues are relevant, determine how we should address the issues in coordination with the communities, and determine how to prioritize all the issues in URSSI.

We are not working in a vacuum, but with other like-minded projects. In addition to Better Scientific Software (BSSw) and activities around research facilitators (ACI-REF) in the US, there are two ongoing institutes in science gateways (SGCI) and molecular sciences (MolSSI); a recently completed conceptualization in high energy physics (S2I2-HEP); two other conceptualization projects now underway in geospatial software and fluid dynamics; and a large number of software development and maintenance projects. In the UK, the Software Sustainability Institute (SSI), which has been in operation since 2010, is an inspiration and a potential model for our work.

Given these existing activities, part of our challenge is to define how we will work with these other groups. For example, we might decide that they perform an activity so well that we should point to it, such as the SSI’s software guides. Or we might decide to either duplicate or enhance an activity they do to expand its impact, such as working with the SGCI to offer incubator services to a wider community than just gateway developers. Or we might decide to collaborate with one or more groups, such as on policy campaigns aimed at providing better career paths for research software developers in universities.

We have held one workshop and are planning three more, in addition to a community survey we plan to have out soon, and a set of ethnographic studies of specific projects. We are communicating through our website, a series of newsletters, and a community discussion site.

URSSI welcomes members of the research software community to join us, both to help us determine how to proceed and to directly contribute. Please sign up for the URSSI mailing listcontribute to our discussions, and potentially publish a guest blog post on the URSSI blog on a topic around software sustainability.

Welcome to the new MBDH Community Blog

Greetings!

Today we are launching a new MBDH Community Blog, which is intended to extend information sharing around events and projects, as well as expand our channels for Community conversation.

We plan to run 1-2 posts per month, and we are now seeking submissions from the MBDH Community – including the Spokes and our other collaborative projects – that describe your contributions and developments in the broader data ecosystem. Of interest are short reports and highlights from data-related meetings, events, or project outcomes, inclusive of the role and impact of the MBDH for these efforts.

We welcome contributions from the Social Sciences and Humanities, including short contributions that address data and algorithmic ethics, or coming changes for work, daily life, and public engagement in U.S data policy.

We encourage submissions from practitioner and NGO perspectives, as well as those from academia, industry, or government. We will provide additional guidelines shortly. If you are interested in submitting a Blog post, please send your contact information and the subject area to: info@midwestbigdatahub.org

Our first guest post is by Daniel Katz, Assistant Director for Scientific Software and Applications at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). Check out his post on the US Research Software Sustainability Institute (URSSI) project.

Finally, I’ll note a couple of activities where we are currently seeking input and engagement:

Add your voice to our Midwest Big Data Hub evaluation

  • To create a robust strategic plan for the Midwest Hub.
  • To plan toward long-term sustainability, especially financial sustainability, for the Midwest Hub.
  • Provide your input here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MBDHSurvey

Participate in our election of five (5) At-large representatives for the MBDH Steering Committee:  http://midwestbigdatahub.org/2018-steering-committee-at-large-nominees/

As always, please contact us with any ideas or questions.
Thank you for your continued support!

All the best,
Melissa Cragin
Executive Director, Midwest Big Data Hub