Skip to main content

Meet the MBDH Fall 2023 science communications interns

For Fall 2023, the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub (MBDH) has three new science communications interns joining the team to help tell the stories of people and data science projects in the Hub’s 12-state region. The interns will learn about the range of activities and communities the MBDH is involved in, will receive mentoring, and will have opportunities for career development. Below are details on the wide-ranging backgrounds and interests the students bring to the MBDH community.

Shruti Gosain

Shruti Gosain is joining MBDH as a Science Communications Intern this semester. She is a first-semester student pursuing a Master’s degree in Information Management in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Shruti’s passion lies in working with data to generate innovative insights. She firmly believes that well-structured data, rather than raw data itself, holds the power to drive innovation.

Working with data is where Shruti thrives, and she is enthusiastic about diving deep into data analysis. Additionally, she possesses a strong inclination for writing and expressing her ideas. During her undergraduate years, Shruti had the privilege of representing her college in numerous debating tournaments, further fueling her passion for articulating her viewpoints and engaging in meaningful discussions. She finds a unique thrill in sharing thoughts and participating in intellectual exchanges. As a Science Communications Intern at MBDH, Shruti views this role as an ideal opportunity to blend her data-driven and communication skills.

“I am learning to learn,” says Shruti. She believes that there is always something to learn from various walks of life. What resonates most with Shruti about MBDH is its mission to enhance the data ecosystem through the promotion of strong networks encompassing academia, industry, government, and various organizations. She is eager to learn about different things and contribute by writing articles on diverse research topics.

In a nutshell, Shruti is thrilled to start on this journey, eager to contribute to its mission while refining her skills and expanding her knowledge. She looks forward to a semester filled with exciting opportunities and personal learnings!

Jas Mehta

Jas Mehta is joining MBDH as a Science Communications Intern for Fall 2023. He is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Information Management degree with a specialization in Data Science and Analytics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with expected graduation in May 2025.

In the realm of artificial intelligence (AI), Jas Mehta’s passions are directed towards the domains of learning, deep learning, and data science, which have captured his interest due to their wide-ranging applications and profound significance across diverse industries and professions; his professional background, encompassing roles such as Data Science Engineer at CWD Innovations and Machine Learning Engineer at Reliance Jio, has only deepened his commitment to these fields. These hands-on experiences have equipped him with invaluable skills and profound insights, positioning him as a catalyst for innovation and transformation within the realm of data science.

Jas’ pursuits are firmly anchored in exploring the vast potential of data-driven solutions to address pressing healthcare challenges. Whether it involves using data for predictive diagnostics or optimizing healthcare operations, he steadfastly believes that the synergy between data science and healthcare can unlock groundbreaking insights and innovations. He says, “Data is not just a collection of facts and figures; it’s the heartbeat of innovation, the foundation of informed decision-making, and the key to unlocking a brighter future.”

As Jas sets sail on his exciting voyage with the MBDH, he eagerly anticipates diving into the dimensions of research and storytelling. His inspiration flows from the opportunity to partake in a multitude of projects and narratives that possess the power to “let the data speak,” creating concrete impacts, enhancing awareness, and fostering positive societal change.

Ken Ogata

Ken Ogata is joining MBDH as a Science Communications Intern this semester. He is a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying Statistics with a minor in Computer Science.

As a newcomer to the Midwest, Ken believes that working at the MBDH will give him insight into the interconnected system of the Midwest states and how data plays a role in bringing it all together.

Ken is pursuing a career in data science and has spent the last two years exploring the intersection between data, computers, and everyday life. He hopes that his contributions to the MBDH will not only be a learning experience for him, but also communicate how crucial data and computer systems are to the greater Midwest.

“It’s hard to keep track of all the cool advancements our state is making, especially given how fast the world is moving nowadays,” Ken said. “I really want to learn more about my prospective career, and I think the best way to learn is to write about it.”

“I am delighted to welcome our three new Science Communications Interns, Shruti, Jas, and Ken, to the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub for the Fall 2023 semester,” said J.D. Graham, Outreach and Engagement Specialist for the MBDH. “Having met them, I am excited about the unique knowledge sets, interests, and perspectives they each bring to the Hub.”

“Each intern has their individualized strengths. Shruti’s passion for structured data analysis paired with her communication talents makes her well-suited to translate complex topics. Jas’ professional experience in AI and hands-on engineering roles gives him a unique lens for conveying how data drives innovation. And Ken’s emerging perspective as a newcomer to the Midwest region will help broaden our narratives about how data connects communities. Their fresh insights will help to expand the reach and impact of the Hub’s storytelling as they showcase the diverse ideas from the Midwest that connect us all to data science.”

“Over the past two years, the MBDH intern program has been extremely well received by the regional data science community, NSF, and the interns themselves,” said John MacMullen, MBDH Executive Director. “We look forward to working with Shruti, Jas, and Ken this year as they help tell the stories of our regional community and develop their own skills and interests.”

The MBDH’s community-convening work continues in fall 2023, including multiple webinar series: the Collaboration Cafe, Midwest Carpentries Community, and Data Science Student Groups series, and the Water Data Forum, all open to participation from people across the region.

Get involved

Contact the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub if you’re aware of other people or projects we should profile here, or to participate in our activities, which include a data science student community.

The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub is an NSF-funded partnership of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Indiana University, Iowa State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, and the University of North Dakota, and is focused on developing collaborations in the 12-state Midwest region. Learn more about the national NSF Big Data Hubs community.

Workshop on Data for Good for Education for Faculty Opens for Registration

By Aisha Tepede

The continued growth of the Data for Social Good (DSG) movement provides an opportunity to increase student motivation and persistence within courses and degrees in data science. To help accelerate faculty use of data for good projects in courses, the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub (MBDH) is hosting a free workshop in partnership with Trinity Christian College on June 2–3 near Chicago. Some travel support is available, including for early-career faculty and those from primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs) and minority-serving institutions (MSIs).

The Workshop on Data for Good for Education (D4G4ED) aims to provide professional development opportunities for instructors seeking to engage their students through meaningful social good projects within a classroom setting and to learn about the latest developments in this field.

The workshop is meant to inspire, educate, and most importantly, allow faculty to share and prepare materials for use within their teaching context. The workshop will support faculty in developing their teaching to better incorporate the DSG movement, which provides a natural connection to relevance with grassroots-level improvements in our society while promoting the broad applicability of data science. This important component of increasing persistence and success for our current generation of students is connecting their coursework to meaningful change or outcomes.

The workshop aims to create networking opportunities for students, faculty, schools, and social good organizations, relating to nonprofits and governments with data science and analytics needs. This event facilitates a venue for sharing successes from projects and courses that use DSG while acting as an onboarding and support platform for faculty and schools interested in including DSG within their schools.

The two-day workshop will consist of facilitated sessions to highlight existing teaching practices around data for good, including Plenary Talks, structured workshop sessions, a “Marketplace of Ideas and Innovations,” group working time, and a networking session.

Guest speakers at the workshop include Dr. Dharma Dailey from the eScience Institute at the University of Washington and Dr. Richard Blumenthal from the Computer and Cyber Sciences Department at Regis University. Each speaker has a unique background surrounding data-intensive research and Artificial Intelligence (AI) research. Drs. Dailey and Blumenthal will be leading workshop sessions on embedding DSG activities in course curricula, and how to engage with external clients to develop real-world projects that are appropriately scoped for student work. The speakers and the workshop session aim to increase knowledge and interest in research, social good, and curricular-innovation goals.

This workshop is supported in part by the National Science Foundation through the MBDH Community Development and Engagement (CDE) Program, through a proposal developed by Karl Schmitt, Data Analytics Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Data Analytics at Trinity Christian College.

Get Involved

Contact the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub if you’re aware of other people or data science education projects we should profile here, or to participate in any of our community-led Priority Areas. The MBDH has a variety of ways to get involved with our community and activities.

The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub is an NSF-funded partnership of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Indiana University, Iowa State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, and the University of North Dakota, and is focused on developing collaborations in the 12-state Midwest region. Learn more about the national NSF Big Data Hubs community.

New working group focused on interoperability of agricultural data

By Sasha Zvenigorodsky

In the face of increasingly challenging climate issues and an ever-growing population, digitization has played a large role in agriculture improvement throughout the years. Innovative technologies such as robotic systems, moisture and temperature sensors, and semiautonomous aviation systems have all revolutionized standard agriculture practices. Consequently, the increase in digital agriculture has led to an increase in various supply chain data needs and has also raised several questions about data interoperability. Organized and effective data exchange between agricultural information systems is crucial to allow the agriculture community to reap the benefits of digitalization.

A new digital agriculture interoperability working group believes that understanding agricultural supply chain data needs will benefit both farmers and large agribusiness corporations alike. The group, co-led by the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub (MBDH) and the Illinois AgTech Accelerator, in partnership with the IEEE Standards Association, plans to identify interoperability issues caused by the flood of information produced by new agricultural technologies. The group’s goals include creating new proposals for data provider standards and certificates, as well as making recommendations for the best practices that will help increase collaboration surrounding agricultural data collection and management.

“The MBDH is happy to be co-leading this working group with our partners,” said John MacMullen, MBDH Executive Director. “The MBDH Digital Agriculture community has been a leader in exploring the challenges and opportunities of data in agriculture, particularly with sensors and autonomous vehicles. With this partnership, we are expanding the reach to cross-sector collaborators across the ag-food supply chain.”

On December 5, 2022, the group hosted a kickoff webinar on Integrative Smart Agriculture Data to address challenges within data protection and interoperability. The webinar was designed to facilitate productive conversations and idea sharing that can help lead to potential solutions to previously mentioned challenges.

Throughout the upcoming year, the group will continue to host various activities regarding digital agriculture. The next working group meeting will be February 7, 2023, at 10 a.m. CT (online).

The working group welcomes participants from academia, industry, and government agencies that are interested in smart agriculture. Visit the group’s web page to learn more. To join the group and attend meetings, an inquiry can be sent to

Get Involved

Contact the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub if you’re aware of other people or projects we should profile here, or to participate in any of our community-led Priority Areas. The MBDH has a variety of ways to get involved with our community and activities. The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub is an NSF-funded partnership of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Indiana University, Iowa State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, and the University of North Dakota, and is focused on developing collaborations in the 12-state Midwest region. Learn more about the national NSF Big Data Hubs community.

Unmanned Aerial Systems, Plant Sciences and Education (UASPSE) Project Featured in Special Section of Agronomy Journal

The Digital Agriculture community of the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub (MBDH) achieved a major milestone this week with a series of open-access publications on ag data.

The Unmanned Aerial Systems, Plant Sciences and Education (UASPSE) project, funded by an award from the National Science Foundation’s Big Data Spokes program (NSF award 1636865), wrapped up its activities this month with the publication of nine open-access articles in the September/October 2022 issue of Agronomy Journal under the Special Section: Big Data Promises and Obstacles: Agricultural Data Ownership and Privacy (BDPO).

Special Section topics include:

Two long-time MBDH team members played important roles in producing the special section: MBDH Site Coordinator Aaron Bergstrom, PI on the UASPSE project and Advanced Cyberinfrastructure Manager at the University of North Dakota; and Jim Wilgenbusch, Co-PI on the MBDH award and Director of Research Computing at the University of Minnesota.

The BDPO special section consists of a series of articles based on presentations given at the June 24, 2020, Virtual Workshop on Big Data Promises and Obstacles: Agricultural Data Ownership and Privacy. The Digital Agriculture: UASPSE Spoke project of the MBDH, together with the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences and PepsiCo, hosted the workshop, which focused on data ownership and privacy as it relates to academic and industry research and development in agriculture. The workshop was originally scheduled to be co-located at the US Agricultural Information Network (USAIN) Biennial Annual Meeting that was to be held in Lubbock, Texas, on May 1, 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the in-person USAIN meeting to be postponed. The BDPO workshop organizers then decided to host the BDPO workshop separately as a virtual workshop in June of that year via Zoom.

A total of 210 persons registered for the virtual workshop. While many attendees came and left throughout the day, the maximum attendee count during the event reached 142 active attendees. Because the event was virtual and the speakers represented groups with an international presence, there were attendees from North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

In addition to 11 invited presentations, two breakout discussion sessions were held on topics chosen based on the 117 responses to the pre-workshop survey. A short post-workshop survey was conducted as well, with 116 respondents, to gather data on breakout sessions in which the attendees participated.

The 11 virtual workshop presentations are available via YouTube.

Get Involved

Interested in ag data? The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub (MBDH) co-leads a new working group sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Association (IEEE SA) to understand agricultural data needs across the food supply chain. Join the kickoff workshop on December 5, 2022, in Champaign, Illinois.

Contact the MBDH to learn more, or if you’re aware of other people or projects we should profile here. We invite participation in any of our community-led Priority Areas. The MBDH has a variety of ways to get involved with our community and activities.

The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub is an NSF-funded partnership of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Indiana University, Iowa State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, and the University of North Dakota, and is focused on developing collaborations in the 12-state Midwest region. Learn more about the national NSF Big Data Hubs community.

Meet the MBDH 2022–2023 science communications and outreach interns

For Fall 2022, the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub (MBDH) has four new interns joining the team to work on a variety of projects. One intern, Shruti Ravichandran, is focused on outreach to help build our student community platforms. Three others, Aisha Tepede, Isabel Alviar, and Sasha Zvenigorodsky, will be focused on science communication, helping to tell the stories of our collaborators and amplify the many community-led data science projects in the Hub’s 12-state region. All will learn about the range of activities and communities the MBDH is involved in, will receive mentoring, and will have opportunities for career development. Below are details on the great backgrounds and interests the students bring to the MBDH community.

Aisha Tepede

Aisha Tepede (she/her) is a Science Communications Intern at MBDH this semester. She is a second-year Master of Public Health (MPH) student in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). She will be graduating this December with a concentration in Health Promotion and Education. Aisha has previously worked with Cook County Health as a case investigator for COVID-19 and with the National Institutes of Health as a clinical research fellow, focusing on a rare disease called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1.

She has a social and behavioral health background involving chronic diseases and underrepresented populations. With this interest, she branched out into the global health research realm. She had the opportunity to spend the summer in Kenya by participating in the Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Training Program (MHRT) funded by National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), where she spent time researching sexual and reproductive health training with adolescent students.

Long term, Aisha has a goal of becoming a public health physician-scientist. She states, “I plan to use my experiences and background to be able to improve communication between physicians and marginalized patients—whether that means patients with a rare disease or a part of an underserved community.” Apart from her aspiration for proper clinician and patient communication, she says “I envision myself as a physician who will actively engage in improving the health of underserved populations, through a combination of community health research and culturally sensitive approaches to medicine and patient care.”

Isabel Alviar

Isabel Alviar is joining MBDH as a Science Communications Intern this semester. She is a senior at UIUC studying Computer Engineering with a minor in Statistics. Next year, she plans on pursuing her master’s degree in Computer Science, specializing in either artificial intelligence or data science. Currently, she is developing parallel-computing machine problems for programming classes at UIUC, and analyzing and summarizing data for an engineering education research conference.

Isabel is interested in pursuing a career that revolves around using data, whether as a software engineer or data scientist/analyst. This summer, she worked at Procter & Gamble (P&G) as a software engineer intern in their Data & Analytics department, automating the process of importing and updating metadata between objects in data platforms to a central Data Catalog. She also pitched the idea of a smart chatbot for the catalog and created a prototype using artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) that will continue being implemented by P&G based on her code and research.

She believes that the work being done by the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub is exciting and inspiring. Isabel hopes to use her passion for science and technology to bring people’s stories, research, and scientific discoveries to life through writing. One of her favorite quotes is, “The science of today is the technology of tomorrow.”

Sasha Zvenigorodsky

Sasha Zvenigorodsky is joining MDBH this semester as a Science Communications Intern. As a senior at UIUC, Sasha is pursuing a BS degree in Crop Sciences. Outside of class, Sasha has been conducting research with UIUC’s Small Grains Improvement lab under Dr. Jessica Rutkoski, studying the correlation between vernalization and overall grain yield of winter wheat.

As a scientific researcher herself, Sasha is conscious of the important intersections between science and writing. Sasha says, “A major part of scientific research is the process of converting it into a language that can be easily understood by both experts and nonexperts alike.” Through writing, she hopes to make new scientific findings and developments more accessible to the public.

Sasha aspires to use her own experience working within a STEM field as well as her passion for creative writing to raise awareness for new innovations and findings in science. “Ultimately, giving individuals the right tools to stay educated and aware is the best way to catalyze positive change in society today,” she says.

Shruti Ravichandran

Shruti Ravichandran is joining MBDH as a Project Coordination Intern in Fall 2022. She is a first-year master’s student majoring in Information Management.

She gained interest in the field of data during her undergraduate degree in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering, while researching about this field online to write an article for a technical magazine published by her school. She began building her skill set in analytics and landed a job at ZS Associates, India, as a Decision Analyst after she graduated in 2020. At ZS, she worked in the healthcare vertical on several big data analytics and data science projects in therapy areas such as leukemia, multiple sclerosis, and glaucoma. These experiences brought her the realization that information management has immense potential to influence actions and decisions that make the world a better place. She aspires to work on such endeavors during her career as a data professional.

She sees working at the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub as a huge opportunity for her to give back to the community of data professionals by bringing together student groups across the region that are interested in this field. Her goal is to help build a community of data enthusiasts that understand the power of analytics, the responsibility they have to uphold the ethics of handling information, and the positive change that it can bring in a wide range of fields such as education, agriculture, and healthcare, among others.

Iishi Patel

Iishi Patel is joining MBDH as a Science Communications Intern for Spring 2023. She is in her second semester in the graduate program of Master of Science in Information Management at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is specializing in Data Science and Analytics and is looking forward to pursuing a career as a data scientist.

Iishi has experience working in data teams of various industries such as travel and tourism, electronics, and telecommunications. She also has research interests in graph neural networks and network security themes. She believes that with the rise of artificial intelligence technologies, we can achieve great automation as well as strength in the field of network and cyber security. Her previous work was to detect DNS over HTTPS (DoH) tunneling [which encrypts Domain Name System (DNS) traffic by passing DNS queries through a Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS)-encrypted session] using deep neural networks. She is also an incoming Data Engineering Intern at Tesla with the Vehicle Safety and Homologation team this summer.

She believes “Data is a magnetic component to drive the world and its humankind into a path of refinement” and working with the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub is a great opportunity for her to combine her passion for writing with the field of her interest (i.e., data science and security). Iishi hopes to bring forward great stories to inspire people in the field of technology and create an awareness of the latest trends in it.

MBDH Executive Director John MacMullen said, “We’re excited to be able to continue this intern program for another year. The incoming students bring diverse experiences and a wide range of interests. We look forward to having the MBDH community engage with them to tell the stories of the innovative work happening across the region.”

The MBDH has a number of events planned for Fall 2022, including our ongoing webinar series: the Collaboration Cafe, Midwest Carpentries Community, and Data Science Student Groups series, and the Water Data Forum, all open to participation from people across the region.

Get involved

Contact the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub if you’re aware of other people or projects we should profile here, or to participate in our activities, which include a data science student community.

The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub is an NSF-funded partnership of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Indiana University, Iowa State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, and the University of North Dakota, and is focused on developing collaborations in the 12-state Midwest region. Learn more about the national NSF Big Data Hubs community.

National Workshop on Data Science Education Featured Multiple Hub Talks

Kim Bruch, West Big Data Innovation Hub Science Writer

Organized by UC Berkeley’s Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society, with support from Microsoft and the West Big Data Innovation Hub, the Summer 2022 National Workshop on Data Science Education offered an array of insight about current data science education initiatives across the academic spectrum, from high school to undergraduate and graduate level programs as well as adult learners.

The latter two days of the workshop focused on national perspectives and programs for data science education, including student driven data science communities of support and learning. The National Science Foundation (NSF) Big Data Innovation Hubs hosted two panels alongside a program of presenters that discussed topics such as investigating the ethics behind algorithms, incorporating Python into statistics and computer science classes, and the latest developments in data science education and community building.

“The West Hub was happy to coordinate the NSF Big Data Hubs’ contribution to this workshop,” said West Big Data Innovation Hub Executive Director Ashley Atkins. “It was an opportunity to share with a national audience some of the undergraduate-focused work the Hubs are pursuing across the country.”

Many lessons learned were discussed during the NSF Big Data Hub panel entitled “Building National Capacity for Student-Driven Data Science Communities.” The panel was moderated by Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub Executive Director Florence Hudson and included presentations by John MacMullen, Emily Rothenberg, Scott Blender, Abhishek Sinha and Rajeev Bukralia.

“The National Student Data Corps began as a grassroots effort in the Northeast region in 2021, and grew to nearly 3,000 community members by June 2022 across the U.S. and in 20 countries around the world,” said Hudson. “Students, professors, industry and nonprofit data science professionals worked together to build this dynamic community of support to increase data science awareness and provide free open online data science resources for students and educators, along with data science career panels, mentoring via a 500-person slack channel, career and chapter resources. We are working together to democratize data science for all.”

Temple University Engineering and Data Science Student Scott Blender talked about the National Student Data Corps (NSDC) from a student perspective—focusing on goals of the chapter systems. He said that their aim is “to inspire, educate, and serve local communities with professional development opportunities by leveraging NSDC resources and events.”

A similar student-aimed program discussed was the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub’s Data Science Student Groups Community. Rajeev Bukralia, professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato, also spoke about his development of the Data Resources for Eager and Analytical Minds (DREAM) student group, which is the largest registered student organization on campus, and brings data science perspectives to students from many disciplines. Details about both DREAM and NSDC can be found on their respective websites.

“We are focused on building a group of student leaders to share best practices about how to grow inclusive, multi-disciplinary student organizations,” said Executive Director of the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub John MacMullen. “Learning from more established groups such as DREAM can help newer student organizations understand how to build strong, diverse teams with engaged participants.”

Another great NSF Big Data Hub Panel at the workshop was entitled Data Science Program Development. South Big Data Hub Executive Director Renata Rawlings-Goss of Georgia Tech opened the panel with a thorough explanation of how they developed their data science education efforts.

West Hub principal investigator Jennifer Chayes gave an overview of Berkeley’s Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society (CDSS), where she serves as associate provost.

Eric Van Dusen speaking during a panel discussion. Photo by KLCfotos.
Workshop organizer Eric Van Dusen, outreach and technology lead for the Data Science Undergraduate Studies program, speaks during a panel discussion. (Photo/ KLCfotos)

“This is the fifth annual conference and the West Big Data Hub has always been a key partner-stakeholder in convening folks in this space. It was great to have multiple hubs collaborating to share so many perspectives,” said CDSS Technology and Outreach Lead Eric Van Dusen, who organized the workshop.

In Memoriam: Val Pentchev

Val Pentchev portrait

The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub team is saddened to announce the passing of our longtime colleague Valentin (Val) Pentchev on December 31, 2021.

Val was most recently the PI on the MBDH partner award to Indiana University, which leads the Smart & Resilient Communities priority area. Val had a long, valued history with the MBDH, beginning in the first phase of the project when NSF initially funded the national network of four Regional Big Data Innovation Hubs.

After participating in the community in the early days of the Hub, Val was elected to the MBDH Steering Committee for the 2018–2020 term.

Val was especially generous with his time, and was committed to the success of the Hub. In addition to regular participation at Steering Committee meetings, he was always willing to join new activities to help the MBDH to grow and mature. We partnered to develop a session at Indy Big Data that was aimed across Industry, Government, and Academia. Val’s leadership and engagement with the organizers got us into the program where we delivered a comprehensive and well-received presentation. His kindness and collaboration will be greatly missed.” —Melissa Cragin, MBDH Executive Director in phase 1 of the Hub
Val Pentchev leading 2019 MBDH All Hands Meeting panel

A regular presence at the annual MBDH All-Hands Meetings, Val often served as a reviewer of student research poster submissions.

At our 2019 All-Hands Meeting in Chicago, the last in-person event sponsored by the Hub prior to the pandemic, Val co-organized and moderated one of the spotlight panels, “The ‘Smart’ Challenge: Delivering on Data-Enabled Decision-Making for Governments and Communities,” with panelists Amy Glasscock, Meera Raja, Ruby Mendenhall, and Charlie Catlett. At that meeting, Val also led a related breakout discussion with other interested participants.

2019 MBDH All Hands Meeting, with Alice Delage
Val was always an energetic and friendly presence at our MBDH meetings, and just simply a wonderful person to be around. He was faithfully involved with the Hub since the very beginning and contributed to this community in countless precious ways over the years. His loss is not only an absolute tragedy for all the many important projects he worked on, but also for all the people who worked beside him and loved him.“ —Alice Delage, Program Manager and Community Liaison for the MBDH in phase 1

In 2019, NSF awarded the BD Hubs an additional four years of support to continue regional and national data science community development. During this second phase, the MBDH continued to grow its work on the Smart & Resilient Communities theme. Val became a co-PI on the Indiana University team, and later became PI in 2021.

Val served on the Hub-wide leadership team throughout 2021, and contributed to our discussions about strategy, partnerships, and long-term sustainability.

I worked with Val from 2015 to 2021. Val was a wonderful human being. A positive coworker with contagious enthusiasm and energy that directly influenced me and others at the time at Indiana University. I have fond memories of Val and I will take the time to remember what Val has taught me over the years, primarily: passion for work and new projects and compassion for coworkers and human beings.” —Franco Pestilli, past PI of the Indiana University MBDH award

At Indiana, Val also led the Collaborative Archive & Data Research Environment (CADRE) project, of which the MBDH is a partner, and helped bring members of the academic library and research data management communities to the Hub.

2019 MBDH All Hands Meeting
“Val was a tremendous colleague. His positive attitude, passion, and commitment to his work made him stand out. He had a way of seeing the big picture and his enthusiasm was contagious. He was a remarkable human being and it was a privilege to know him.” —Lourdes Gonzalez, MBDH Site Coordinator at Indiana University

Val represented the Hub at the Midwest AI Day in-person cross-sector conference in Indiana in August 2021, bringing the MBDH story to attendees from industry, government, and academia.

In October 2021, Val co-organized and participated on a panel discussion at the online MBDH Regional Community Meeting, with a focus on community building across the Smart & Resilient Communities and Data Science for Social Good spaces, with panelists Kimberly Zarecor (Iowa State), Tayo Fabusui (University of Michigan), and moderator Anita Say Chan (UIUC). In 2022, we had planned to continue this work with Val co-leading and helping to establish new partnerships in the region.

“The MBDH will continue to build on the legacy of work that Val helped create,” said John MacMullen, MBDH Executive Director. “His goal with the Hub was to broaden the impact of data science in addressing societal challenges. Due to his dedicated engagement, we are ready to accelerate our data needs assessment and community development efforts in the Data Science for Social Good and Smart & Resilient Communities spaces across the region in 2022.”

National Science Foundation (NSF) Awards $2 Million for COVID Information Commons Extension for Pandemic Recovery (CIC-E)

New York, NY – October 5, 2021

The COVID Information Commons (CIC) project, a program led by the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub in the Data Science Institute at Columbia University, in collaboration with the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub, the South Big Innovation Data Hub, and the West Big Data Innovation Hub, received additional funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support the COVID Information Commons Extension for Pandemic Recovery (CIC-E) proposal (NSF #2139391). This new grant will provide an additional $2 million in funding to the COVID Information Commons project through September 30, 2025.

The COVID Information Commons (CIC) was established in May 2020 via an NSF COVID Rapid Response Research (RAPID) award (NSF #2028999) to facilitate information sharing and collaboration across NSF-funded COVID research efforts. The initial focus was on compiling publicly available information from COVID-related RAPID projects funded by the various NSF Directorates in order to create an easily searchable corpus. In addition to the publicly available information, the CIC also collected self-reported information from the project leaders via a voluntary survey. A CIC research webinar series was created, featuring talks by researchers from the NSF-funded COVID RAPID research projects. The CIC Extension will extend this initial CIC effort to include all projects funded by NSF related to COVID-19 including the pandemic recovery phase. In addition, it will seek to include publicly available information on COVID-related efforts beyond those funded by the NSF.

The initial CIC effort clearly demonstrated the benefits of bringing together information about a diverse set of COVID-related projects into a single place, thereby enabling interested users to efficiently search for information and discover linkages among diverse efforts. This helped foster the creation of a CIC community of researchers and students, and helped catalyze local and global collaborations. The CIC Extension will carry forward this idea to include projects in the pandemic recovery phase, and will additionally incorporate contemporary ways of interacting with the information such as via search and discovery of linked information using semantic search methods, and the use of domain ontologies and knowledge graph mechanisms.

Broad impact is central to the idea of the COVID Information Commons, which pulls together publicly available information along with voluntary self-reported information on NSF-funded COVID-related research projects in order to enable search and discovery of information and collaborations among individual efforts. The CIC has demonstrated early successes in creating such collaborations among researchers from diverse scientific disciplines and from different parts of the country, and around the world, drawn together by their common interest in studying the COVID pandemic. By extending the CIC effort to the pandemic recovery phase, the CIC Extension will reach an even larger and more diverse community of COVID researchers and facilitate networking among researchers engaged in COVID-related research. The CIC Extension will also build upon and expand the successful CIC research webinar series and undergraduate engagement programs initiated in the initial phase of this effort. COVID researchers funded by NSF and NIH, including those newly funded through the American Rescue Plan of 2021 (ARP), will be invited to join the open CIC community and participate in collaborative webinars and events to increase researcher collaboration and accelerate COVID-19 recovery. Visit us at to learn more and join the CIC community.

The Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub

The mission of the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub is to build and strengthen partnerships across industry, academia, nonprofits, and government to address societal and scientific challenges, spur economic development, and accelerate innovation in the national big data ecosystem.

The Northeast Hub is a community convener, collaboration hub, and catalyst for data science innovation in the Northeast Region. The Hub amplifies successes of the community and shares credit across the community to encourage collaboration and mutual success in data science endeavors.

The goals of the Northeast Hub are to: build collaborations to address real-world challenges through translational data science approaches; foster innovation and scale endeavors that reflect regional interests and align with national priorities related to data science; support and promote representative community engagement/impact across all Hub activities; and increase data science capacity and talent, emphasizing underserved communities. Visit us at to learn more.

The COVID Information Commons

The COVID Information Commons (CIC) is an open website to facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration across various COVID research efforts, initiated by the NSF Convergence Accelerator. The initial focus of the CIC website was on NSF-funded COVID Rapid Response Research (RAPID) projects. The CIC serves as a resource for researchers, students and decision-makers from academia, government, not-for-profits and industry to identify collaboration opportunities, to leverage each other’s research findings, and to accelerate the most promising research to mitigate the broad societal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CIC community is a dynamic, collaborative community of over 1,500 researchers, practitioners and students working on COVID-19 research and insights to enable pandemic recovery and mitigation. The entire CIC community is invited to monthly CIC PI lightning talk webinars, which have attracted over 835 participants from the CIC launch webinar in July 2020 through September 2021. The monthly CIC webinars have featured 78 PI lightning talks which are individually available on demand on the CIC website on the “Meet the Researchers” page. The full recordings of all monthly webinars are also available in the CIC Video Library on the CIC website. COVID researchers find research collaborators by participating in the live webinars and by watching recordings through the CIC portal. The addition of more researchers, research, publications, datasets, and metadata will further accelerate and increase collaboration on COVID research, through the CIC-E funded by NSF.

Upcoming COVID Information Commons Events

Every month, the CIC brings together a group of researchers studying wide-ranging aspects of the current pandemic, to share their research and answer questions from our community. Attend this event to learn more about their ongoing efforts in the fight against COVID-19, including opportunities for collaboration. Register here for your unique Zoom link and calendar information.

Media Contacts

Florence Hudson
Executive Director, Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub

Lauren Close
Operations & Communications Manager, Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub

Sign up for the COVID Information Commons newsletter to receive future updates, including event notifications and program announcements.

Meet the MBDH Fall 2021 science writing and coordination interns

For Fall 2021, the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub has four new interns joining the team to work on a variety of projects. One intern, Sushma Mahadevaswamy, will be working on project and events coordination. Three others, Raleigh Butler, Erica Joo, and Qining Wang, will be science writers, helping to amplify the many community-led projects in the Hub’s 12-state region. All will learn about the range of activities and communities the MBDH is involved in, and will receive mentoring and have opportunities for career development.

The MBDH has a number of events planned for Fall 2021, including ongoing webinar series (Water Data Forum, Data Science Student Groups), a new research development series called the Collaboration Cafe, and a two-day Regional Community Meeting, open to all.

To help develop these events, and do outreach to our student community, Sushma Mahadevaswamy has joined the MBDH team as a project coordination and events intern. She’s currently pursuing her master’s degree in information management at UIUC. Previously, she was a software developer for 3 years at Cisco. Hailing from the silicon city of India, she’s well versed in cloud computing, problem solving and algorithms (she knows her Big O’s), and software development.

While working at Cisco, she handled application security, across six cross-geographical teams based in India and the USA, through collaboration and communication. She loves to organize events to motivate her team. She’s a vibrant individual, who was an MC for various global events. Her strengths lie in development as well as efficient management of projects.

Her goal is to bridge the gap between technical and business aspects of product/project management. She’s excited to put her skill set to good use at MBDH. She will be engaging with the student community to organize knowledge-sharing events that will enrich the data science community.

In her spare time, she usually paints or goes on a hike. She’s done three Himalayan treks and hopes to ascent Mt. Everest one day. She also believes in giving back to the society and she regularly volunteers to teach underprivileged children. Her favorite quote is, “Make a difference, not a living.”

With programmatic activities ranging from the MBDH’s partnerships in its Community Development and Engagement (CDE) program, to other Priority Area work, exciting new projects in the region, and the events described above, there is a lot for the science-writing interns to draw from. They will be focused on telling the stories of the projects and the people—researchers, students, partners, and collaborators—and how the work they are doing is impacting the Midwest region, the nation, and the world.

Raleigh Butler is one of the three science writers interning at MBDH for the fall semester. Her undergraduate degree was a dual major in Linguistics and French at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She recently got her MS degree in UIUC’s Journalism program, graduating summa cum laude. Between the two degrees, she pursued a post-bac, focusing on introductory science courses.

Raleigh views science writing as a wonderful opportunity to combine STEM and the humanities. She aspires to “translate” technical verbiage into phrasing easily understood by the average reader. She emphasizes, “during these times of great scientific developments—not to mention health-related developments—it’s critical that the wider population have an understanding of what’s going on. By providing a reliable source of information that is also more understandable, perhaps we can assist in this education process.” Indeed, people frequently want to learn without necessarily reading a full-length technical article.

She believes that access to easy-to-understand material instead of difficult-to-parse journal articles will reach the population more successfully and wants to do her best on that front. For example, recently, she has been writing about COVID-19.

Raleigh says “I’m extremely excited about this opportunity to begin pursuing my dream job and to learn more about the field.”

Qining Wang (she/her) also joins MBDH this semester as a science-writing intern. Born and raised in China, Qining moved to the USA in 2013 and received her BA degree in chemistry from Rutgers University in 2018. She is now in her fourth year of pursuing a PhD in chemistry at Northwestern University. Co-advised by Prof. Joe Hupp and Prof. Justin Notestein, she synthesizes heterogeneous catalysts supported on metal-organic frameworks and investigates their gas-phase reactivities.

Aside from conducting scientific research, Qining is also conscious of the broader impact of science. She strives to inform the public of the progress in science and technology by making cutting-edge science more accessible to a lay audience. She wants to tell the stories of scientific discoveries and scientists through a curious lens without invoking intimidating equations and jargon. Therefore, in addition to writing, she also explores different approaches to effectively communicate science, such as videos, podcasts, and social media.

Qining says, “there are so many barriers to accessing and understanding science, from the intricate language scientists use to talk about science to the academic publications behind paywalls. As a scientist, I am responsible for removing those barriers.”

Erica Joo (she/her) is the third science-writing intern at MBDH this semester. As a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Erica is pursuing her BS degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology with a minor in Journalism. Additionally, she is an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Joe Qiao’s lab, and her research project is focused on meiotic checkpoint pathways and investigating certain enzymes involved with DNA repair pathways.

While being involved on the frontlines as a healthcare worker during the pandemic, she noticed a disparity in information about COVID-19, especially with the perpetuation of misinformation across the media. Erica recalls. “I felt that I wanted to be a part of the change that the world desperately needed at the time.” Combining her two passions, science and writing stories, was a catalyst in the evolution of her life. Erica has a strong interest in social issues and science research, and as a biology student herself, she understands the difficulty in understanding science at face value. “Navigating from one discipline to the other, I’m ultimately trying to create a common ground in my versatility.”

She aspires to take her experiences and academic background to not only help readers make sense of the science behind various types of research but to also address questions that the general public may wonder about and make it easily accessible. With high hopes and ambitions, Erica imparts, “from my experience in both fields, my job is always to write effectively so that audiences without extensive knowledge on a particular field can also learn and develop their own thoughts.”

MBDH Executive Director John MacMullen said, “We’re excited to have such a talented group of interns who bring a diverse set of skills and experiences to the Hub this semester. We look forward to seeing the work they produce and having the community engage with them on the wide range of data science activities happening across the region.”

Get involved

Contact the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub if you’re aware of other people or projects we should profile here, or to participate in our activities, which include a data science student community.

The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub is an NSF-funded partnership of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Indiana University, Iowa State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, and the University of North Dakota, and is focused on developing collaborations in the 12-state Midwest region. Learn more about the national NSF Big Data Hubs community.

Introducing the COVID Information Commons

The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub collaborated with the other three regional Big Data Innovation Hubs and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to launch the COVID Information Commons (CIC).

Funded by NSF COVID Rapid Response Research Award #2028999, the CIC is an open website to facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration across various coronavirus research efforts, especially focusing on NSF-funded COVID Rapid Response Research (RAPID) projects.

The CIC serves as a resource for researchers, students, and decision-makers from academia, government, not-for-profits, and industry to identify collaboration opportunities and accelerate the most promising research to mitigate the broad societal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

WATCH: The recording of our launch and demo webinar is available at as well as on YouTube.

LEARN MORESlides from the webinar are available at, below the July 15 launch + demo video. While you’re there, you can explore the live site!

JOIN THE COMMUNITY: The CIC Slack community is a space for discussion and collaboration among PIs and other stakeholders engaged in COVID research.

We will be announcing further CIC events to showcase lightning talks from 40+ PI volunteers over the next few months. If you are interested in hearing more and did not opt-in at registration for future email updates, you may sign up here.

If you have any questions, please email us at

Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub announces leadership changes

As its second year of new funding begins, there is new leadership at the Midwest Big Data Hub (MBDH), with a swap in principal investigators and the appointment of a new executive director. Catherine Blake, a co-principal investigator (PI) on the project, has moved into the PI role, while William (Bill) Gropp transitions to co-PI duties. Long-time Hub staff member John MacMullen was named executive director in January.

Catherine Blake

Blake is an associate professor in the School of Information Sciences (iSchool) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with an affiliate appointment in the Department of Computer Science. At the iSchool, she serves as associate director of the Center for Informatics Research in Science and Scholarship (CIRSS) and director of the graduate programs in information management and bioinformatics. Gropp is director and chief scientist of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and the Thomas M. Siebel Chair in the Department of Computer Science at Illinois. Prior to joining the MBDH, MacMullen was a faculty member in the iSchool.

“I’m excited and honored to step into the role of principal investigator for the Midwest Big Data Hub,” said Blake. “The community developed during the first phase has made the MBDH well positioned to leverage the rapidly growing data and information collections and technologies in Phase 2 that focus on opportunities, interests, and resources that are unique to the Midwest.”

The MBDH, co-led by the NCSA and the iSchool, serves a twelve-state region that encompasses Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. It is part of the National Science Foundation’s regional Big Data Innovation Hub (BD Hubs) program that comprises offices in the Midwest, West, South, and the Northeast. Initially funded in 2015, the second phase started in summer 2019 and will run until 2023. The goal of the MBDH awards, which will total over $4 million for both phases, is to catalyze data science efforts around important priority areas in the Midwest.

“This month we’re starting our second year of the new phase of the Hub with the launch of our Community Development and Engagement funding program,” said MacMullen. “We look forward to continuing to develop a vibrant and diverse data science community in the Midwest that includes the range of academic institutions in the region, and grows participation from nonprofits, government agencies, and industry partners.”

Priority areas for MBDH currently include advanced materials and manufacturing; water quality; big data in health; digital agriculture; and smart, connected, and resilient communities. In addition, MBDH leads cross-cutting initiatives to broaden the participation in data science education, develop cyberinfrastructure for research data management, and address cybersecurity issues around big data. MBDH engages with 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, reusable) principles. By leading initiatives in data science education and workforce development, the MBDH aims to increase data science capacity within the region, such as by growing a network of predominantly undergraduate institutions and minority-serving institutions.

“The MBDH is building on the momentum of its first phase by growing the stakeholder community in the Midwest,” said Gropp, who began as PI of the Hub in 2017. “At the same time, we’re actively participating in the evolution of the national data science ecosystem. I look forward to continuing to develop long-term sustainability for the Hub’s activities through strategic projects such as the COVID Information Commons collaboration between the Hubs and NSF, launching in July 2020.”

Follow MBDH on Twitter: @MWBigDataHub

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

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

Learn more about the BD Hubs ecosystem at

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:

National Science Foundation (NSF) media contact:


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

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

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.

Welcome to the new MBDH Community Blog


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:

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:

Participate in our election of five (5) At-large representatives for the MBDH Steering Committee:

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

Big Data Hubs partner with NSF and JHU on new nationwide data storage network

The Midwest Big Data Hub and the three other regional Big Data Innovation Hubs are partnering with the National Science Foundation and Johns Hopkins University on development of a new nationwide research data network called the Open Storage Network. Partners include Alex Szalay, lead PI (Johns Hopkins), Ian Foster (University of Chicago), the National Data Service (NDS), and five supercomputing centers within the Big Data Hubs’ regions.

The official NSF press release is available here.

The Johns Hopkins story is here.

A story from NCSA with more details from Melissa Cragin, MBDH Executive Director and award PI, and NDS Executive Director Christine Kirkpatrick is here.

Links to partners:

New Report on “Keeping Data Science Broad”

A new report on the “Keeping Data Science Broad: Negotiating the Digital and Data Divide Among Higher Education Institutions” initiative was released by the South Big Data Hub and collaborators, including the Midwest Hub. This initiative brought together the BD Hubs community and other stakeholders to explore pathways for keeping data science education broadly inclusive. Read More

An Introduction to Dr. William Gropp, MBDH PI

Dear MBDH Community,

I wanted to officially introduce myself as the new PI of the Midwest Big Data Hub. In a previous MBDH newsletter, it was announced that I would be taking over the role after the former PI, Dr. Ed Seidel, accepted the job of Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation for the University of Illinois System. It is with great enthusiasm that I join the MBDH community, and I’m eager to contribute to all the ways the Hub is expanding and enhancing the Midwest Big Data ecosystem.

Read More

Machine Learning: Farm-to-Table Workshop

by Keith Hollenkamp –

In April, the MBDH teamed up with the International Food Security at Illinois (IFSI) to host the Machine Learning: Farm-to-Table Workshop. The workshop brought together domain scientists to stimulate new data-driven R+D activity at the intersections of the Agriculture, Bioinformatics, Food-Energy-Water, and Food Security communities.

Read More

A Note From Ed Seidel

Dear Friends and Colleagues of the Midwest Big Data Hub:

I’d like to let you all know that I have recently accepted the position of VP for Economic Development and Innovation for the University of Illinois System, and will no longer be the Director of NCSA. As a result, after consulting with MBDH leadership, NSF, and U of IL officials, we have decided that it is the best interests of the hub that we pass the PI role to Prof. Bill Gropp.

Read More

MBDH Spoke Awardee Guides Open Source Computational Research Infrastructure for Science

The newly released open source Computational Research Infrastructure for Science (CRIS) was developed with contributions from a Midwest Big Data Hub (MBDH) Planning Grant, “Cyberinfrastructure to Enhance Data Quality and Support Reproducible Results in Sensors.” CRIS provides an easy to use, scalable, and collaborative scientific data management and workflow cyberinfrastructure.

CRIS was developed at Purdue University under the technical leadership of Peter Baker and the scientific supervision of Professor Elisa Bertino. Dr. Bertino is the PI of the MBDH Planning grant, which contributed by assessing the quality tools and versioning techniques provided by CRIS. Within the grant, the developers are currently working on provenance models and techniques, and provenance interoperability for the CRIS provenance model.

More information can be found here.

Midwest Big Data Hackathon, University of Iowa

October 8–9, 2016
Iowa City, Iowa

The Midwest Big Data Hackathon is a 2-day, non-stop hackathon with 150 participants, and it will be held at University of Iowa—in the heart of downtown Iowa City, USA. The event is open to all university students that have a passion for creating things with technology!

Students will form teams to work on their project (or ‘hack’) up to 4 members. Projects are open format, which means that you can hack on web, mobile, desktop, or hardware applications. Company mentors will be available throughout the event for questions to make sure beginners and experts alike will have the help they need to successfully develop their project. All teams will demo their hacks at the end of the event and winners will be chosen by company mentors.

NSF awards connect Midwest Big Data Hub and scientists to solve regional challenges

Today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced $10 million in “Big Data Spokes” awards to initiate research in specific areas identified, supported, and organized by the Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs (BD Hubs). $2.4 million in Big Data Spoke, Early­ Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) and planning awards will connect the Midwest Big Data Hub (MBDH) and midwestern data scientists, to support digital agriculture; community-driven and sustainable neuroscience data infrastructure; improved sensor technologies; citizen scientists and real-time air quality monitoring; and new data-to-decision systems in hazards management by partnering data scientists with emergency personnel.

Read More

Data Quality in a Big Data Era

September 28-29, 2016
Cyberinfrastructure Building, Wrubel Lobby, Indiana University
Bloomington, Indiana

What is data quality and what does it mean in the age of big data? Throughout the history of modern scholarship, the exchange of scholarly data was undertaken through personal interactions among scholars or through highly curated data archives, such as ICPSR (Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research). In both cases, implicit or explicit provenance mechanisms gave a relatively high degree of insurance of the quality of the data. However, the ubiquity of the web and mobile digital culture has produced disruptive new forms of data such as those based on citizen science, social network transactions, or massively deployed automatic sensors. Integrity and trustworthiness of these data are uncertain due to issues such as sampling characteristics, expertise of the data producers, or quality of the instruments. As these data are shared, fused, homogenized, and mixed, we need to ask ourselves what we know about the data and what we can trust. Failure to answer these questions endangers the integrity of the science produced from these data.

For more information, go to


There is no cost to attend but space is limited to 50 attendees. Registration will be available from August 5, 2016 until September 19, 2016. Early career scientists and researchers will be selected to predominantly fill available seats.

Travel Support

Travel support—automobile and lodging—for non-IU participants who are working in industry, government, or non-profit sectors is available. Qualified individuals are expected to present their work in a poster session Sept. 28, 2016 to showcase the breadth of developments occurring in Big Data. To be considered, please register by September 9, 2016 and apply for travel support. Application details are available at

Questions about the data quality workshop should be sent to Jill Minor,

Food and Data Workshop: Interoperability through the Food Pipeline

September 12-13, 2016
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The increasing ability to capture data at the level of individual agricultural fields, individual culinary recipes, and individual food waste digesters is allowing analytics-based optimization within the distinct industries responsible for producing, transporting, trading, storing, processing, packaging, wholesaling, retailing, consuming, and disposing of food. Yet addressing the pressing national/global challenges in food security due to climate change, as well as public health challenges such as obesity and malnutrition, requires optimization across the food pipeline. The Food and Data Workshop: Interoperability through the Food Pipeline, September 12-13 in the CSL Auditorium (B02), is concerned with understanding the relationship between data and food writ large, with a particular focus on questions of interoperable data ontologies, privacy, and analytic insights.

For more information and to register go to

Midwest Workshop on Neuroscience Big Data

September 20-21, 2016
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Students, trainees, fellows, junior investigators, and outside researchers in Midwest academic institutions and industry partners are invited to attend and actively participate in the Midwest Workshop on Neuroscience Big Data. Expected workshop outcomes include (1) building an active Midwest Neuroscience Network Community, (2) open-sharing of data-intense challenges, datasets, research projects, expertise, software, services, protocols, resources, learning modules, and (3) productive discussions of joint (multi-institutional) grants, training opportunities, publications, research projects. The workshop success will be measured by assessing the community involvement (early registration, active workshop participation, post-workshop activities and interactions), website analytics (geographic locations of income traffic, counts, frequencies, and intensity of web-site utilization, and evidence of collaborations on development of software tools, services, learning materials, end-to-end pipeline workflows.

Registration is free, but space is limited. Sixty scholarships are being offered to students, post doctoral scholars and early career investigators in form of travel and lodging support to attend the workshop.

Missouri S&T Research and Technology Development Conference

September 12-13, 2016
Havener Center
Rolla, Missouri

Midwest Big Data Hub is hosting an Early Career lightning talk session on the topic of data in a research project setting at the Missouri S&T Research and Technology Development Conference. Travel reimbursement for presenters is available for up to $250/presenter. Pre-tenured faculty, post-docs, graduate students, and undergraduates are encouraged to give a quick 5-minute presentation on any data issue of relevance to a research project in which you participated. Eight to ten lightning talks will be scheduled. Apply today!

Symposium on Frontiers in Big Data

Friday, September 23, 2016 and Saturday, September 24, 2016
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

You are cordially invited to attend the Grainger Foundation-sponsored “Symposium on Frontiers in Big Data” on September 23-24 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. It is a great opportunity to:

  • ◦ Listen to invited talks, interview dialogs, panels, and debates regarding new challenges of Big Data;
  • ◦ Explore Big Data Frontiers in Bioinformatics, Agriculture, Systems, Optimization, and Machine Learning, with nationally renowned speakers, including:
    • • Michael Franklin (University of Chicago),
    • • Al Hero (University of Michigan),
    • • Michael Jordan (University of California, Berkeley),
    • • James Krogmeier (Purdue University),
    • • George Lan (Georgia Institute of Technology),
    • • Mihai Pop (University of Maryland),
    • • Dana Randall (Georgia institute of Technology),
    • • Robert Tempelman (Michigan State University),
    • • John Wilkes (Google Inc.);
  • ◦ Meet nationally renowned UIUC Big Data researchers and engage in discussions with speakers during the symposium and the reception.

Registration is free but required due to meal planning. Please register by September 8, 2016.

If you have any questions about the Symposium on Frontiers in Big Data, please contact Doris Bonnett ( For more information and the tentative agenda, please visit the Symposium website.

Big Data for Health and Medicine Workshop — August 11, 2016

Join us on August 11, 2016 for a workshop to discuss challenges in using big data for driving health and medicine at the University of Nebraska at Omaha College of Information Science & Technology! Our goal is to encourage discussion on challenges currently facing health-related industries with regards to data collection, gathering, storage, and analysis. We hope to bring together representatives from industry, government, non- profits, and academia to discuss the following current topics of interest for health and medicine:

  • • Wearables (FitBit, Jawbone UP, Polar)
  • • Quantified Self and IoT
  • • Predictive medicine
  • • Precision medicine
  • • Analytics for health
  • • Data collection & storage
  • • Data analysis
  • • Security concerns
  • • Collaboration
  • • Smart cities
  • • Food for health
  • • Reproducibility and robustness
  • • Data science
  • …and related topics

In the afternoon we will hold concurrent sessions. The Technical Track will consist of an Introduction to R workshop, designed for participants in industry, government, and non-profit with limited programming background, or with experience in other languages (SAS, SPSS) looking to investigate the open-source R language. This workshop will be free for the first 45 participants. The concurrent Breakout Track will provide opportunities for discussion, collaboration, and sharing their own personal challenges in dealing with data in health-related fields.

Registration is free for the first 45 participants!

Tentative Agenda

9:00A — Welcome and introduction
9:30A — Keynote – Tentative Topic: Big Data Challenges in Health-related Fields
10:30A — Coffee break
10:45A — Keynote – Tentative Topic: Team Science Approaches to Collaboration in Big Data
11:45A — Panel and lunch (*lunch is included with registration)

Technical Track
Workshop: Intro to Data Analysis with R*
Audience: Beginner/Intermediate
*Limited to first 30 participants to sign up.

Breakout Track
A number of speakers will be joining us for discussions on high performance computing, green computing, analytics needs, and related topics.

4:00P-5:00P — Reception and Poster Session

Big Data for Health and Medicine Workshop

Thursday, August 11, 2016
Peter Kiewit Institute — Omaha, NE

Midwest Big Data Summer School, June 20-24, 2016, Ames, IA

The Midwest Big Data Summer School for Early Career Researchers will be held from June 20-24, 2016 in Ames, Iowa. This summer school is designed as a one week, intensive curriculum aimed at early career researchers to get them started in data-driven research. The school will include full day lectures on topics ranging from: data acquisition, data preprocessing, exploratory data analysis, descriptive data analysis, data analysis tools and techniques, visualization and communication, ethical issues in data science, reproducibility and repeatability, and understanding of domain/context. The summer school is partially supported by the Midwest Big Data Hub, by the ISU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, by the ISU Office of the Vice President of Research, and by the ISU Department of Computer Science.

Midwest Big Data Summer School
June 20-24, 2016
Morrill Hall, Iowa State University
Ames, IA


There is no cost to attend but you must register by Wednesday, June 1 at 5:00pm to reserve your space. There is limited space so send your registration soon.

Travel Support

We have limited amount of travel support available for non-ISU participants. To be considered for travel support, please register by May 24 at 5:00pm and apply for travel support. Application details are available at

We look forward to welcoming you in Ames, Iowa this June 2016. Any questions about the summer school should be sent to Hridesh Rajan, Please do feel free to circulate this to your colleagues as you see fit.

Digital Agriculture Spoke All-Hands Meeting – May 16-17, 2016

Videos of the presentations are now available!

The 2016 Digital Agriculture Spoke All-Hands Meeting to be held on May 16-17 at the Scheman Building, Iowa State Center, Ames, Iowa. The Digital Agriculture Spoke of the Midwest Big Data Hub is devoted to building partnerships and resources that will address emerging Big Data issues in the agricultural ecosystem.

Stakeholders from academia, industry, government, and other organizations will engage in interactive discussions about the partnerships and resources that will be needed to address the challenges in collecting, managing, serving, mining, and analyzing rapidly growing and increasingly complex data and information collections to create actionable knowledge and guide decision-making in agriculture.

Events will include presentations by Midwest Big Data Hub and national leadership; industry panel presentations and Q&A; participant lightning talks; and breakout sessions to discuss existing projects and to develop ideas and partnerships for new projects; and a poster session and reception.

Early career researchers, post-docs, graduate students, and undergraduate students are encouraged to attend. There is no registration fee for this meeting.

UND Early Career Big Data Summit – April 6-8

The University of North Dakota (UND) will host an Early Career Big Data Summit (ECBDS) April 6-8, 2016. This Big Data event seeks to provide a venue for early career Big Data researchers (graduate students, post docs, and pre-tenure faculty) to connect with Industry, third-sector volunteer groups, and established researchers. Events will include multiple industry panel discussions, researcher lightning talks, and a hands-on application hack-a-thon. The Summit is expected to have representation from the Digital/Precision Agriculture, Transportation, Social Media, and Unmanned Aircraft Systems industries.

The summit will be co-located with the 47th Annual UND Writers Conference, whose theme this year is “The Art of Science” (AoS). In addition to Summit events, all attendees will be allowed to attend all AoS events—including Keynote presentations by Brian Greene (string theorist, author of The Elegant Universe, and entertaining communicator of cutting-edge scientific concepts) and award winning science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson. While the entire AoS schedule is available on the UND Writers Conference website, additional AoS events include: 1) the Greene post-keynote social event at the North Dakota Museum of Art, and 2) the Thursday afternoon Prairie Public Radio interview and audience question/answer session with Brian Greene on the topic of “How to communicate science to a popular audience.”

The ECBDS has no registration fees, but registration is required for those seeking participant support and/or wishing to participate in hosted panels, lightning talks, or the hack-a-thon. Attendees will be responsible for their own meals, lodging, and travel. A limited amount of participant support is available to registered summit attendees only—preference is given to Big Data Summit presenters. More registration information is available through the ECBDS website.