Data Science Corps Awards Aim to Develop Workforce-Ready Data Scientists


October 6, 2021

The impact of the data sciences in our economy and communities has become a significant new competitive advantage across all sectors of society, and advanced economies are increasingly characterized by their ability to provide access to open data and the ability to exploit such data for the benefit of society, industry, government, and science. Therefore, the U.S. National Science Foundation strives to engage the research community in the pursuit of fundamental research in data science and engineering, development of a cohesive, federated, national-scale approach to research data infrastructure, and the development of a 21st-century data-capable workforce.

The Data Science Corps (DSC)—a component of NSF’s Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR) ecosystem—enables education and workforce development by focusing on building capacity for harnessing the data revolution at the local, state, and national levels to help unleash the power of data in the service of science and society. With a mission to help build a strong, national data science infrastructure and workforce, DSC engages data science students and professionals in real-world data science implementation projects. This engagement will help bridge the data-to-knowledge gap in organizations and communities at all levels, including local, state, and national.

On September 2021, 10 DSC awards were made, totaling up to $15 million over a period of 3 years. The awards will support undergraduate and graduate students at colleges, universities, and Minority Serving Institutions across many states, including Arizona, New Mexico, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Delaware, Georgia, and will bring together students of multiple disciplines, such as computer science, mathematics, statistics, and other sciences.

“Building a strong and inclusive data science workforce and infrastructure is critical to unleash the power of data science in service of our communities,” said NSF Program Director Amy Walton, pointing out that these awards will empower students to sharpen their skills in data science by working on real-world projects of importance to rural and urban communities, academia, industry, and government.

Amarda Shehu, one of the lead program directors of the DSC program said that participating institutions of the program are implementing “bold and creative DSC educational pathways with multiple points of entry to support varied educational backgrounds and experiences, skill level, and technical maturity among undergraduate and master’s degree students, which directly supports a key NSF’s mission to develop a diverse STEM workforce.”

Scaling the Curricular Framework

One of the objectives of the DSC program is to build capacity for education and workforce development to harness the data revolution at local, state, and national levels by building nationwide learning models that offer genuine data science challenges and hands-on experiences that motivate students to learn the required competencies.

The Collaborative Research: HDR DSC: Infusion of data science and computation into engineering curricula program award, for example, aims to develop a curricular framework for data science education and workforce development that is transferable between diverse institutions, so STEM-related programs can plug and play data science lessons. These lessons will be created in conjunction with community stakeholders and industry partners to ensure a focus on real-world problem solving.

“Several of the awarded projects put forward bold ideas on scaling the curricular framework. For example, the HDR:DSC:National Data Mine Network program award involves 100 institutions and trains a large cohort of three hundred students across the nation year round,” said NSF Program Director Christopher Stark.

Building Strategic Partnerships

A critical focus of the DSC program is to develop partnerships with academia across the U.S. to leverage additional opportunities to expand collaborations and knowledge-sharing among the students. One example is the Collaborative Research: HDR DSC: DS-PATH: Data Science Career Pathways in the Inland Empire award program, which brings together six partnering institutions to advance data science education in the Inland Empire — one of the most populous and diverse regions in California and the Nation.

The partnership includes the University of California Riverside, California State University San Bernardino, the three community colleges of the Riverside Community College District, and San Bernardino Valley College. All six partners are Hispanic Serving Institutions. The project will develop and deploy a DSC program that: (i) creates flexible pathways for Data Science education in the Inland Empire region of Southern California, (ii) provides students with experiential learning opportunities, (iii) develops a community of partners that will provide local, tangible, and impactful Data Science projects, and (iv) broadens the participation of women and under-represented minorities in Data Science.

“This is the second round of HDR DSC awards, and a consistent element has been the community engagement,” noted NSF Program Director Sylvia Spengler. “Partnerships between communities and data scientists will help us produce a workforce-ready cohort of data scientists, who have experience with data science in action in real-world settings.”

Convergence of Multiple Disciplines

Multidisciplinarity is one of the key focuses of the DSC program to develop an integrated workforce capable of tackling different community research challenges. As the field of data science evolves, there is an increasing need for a qualified and diverse set of professionals with skills in data science. The Delaware and Mid-Atlantic Data Science Corps network brings together three partner institutions from the Delaware Valley, the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, and Lincoln University. “The team will strengthen and promote interdisciplinary training in foundational and applied data science, both in the classroom and in projects with internal researchers and external collaborations,” said NSF Project Manager Paul Tymann.

Another example is the HDR DSC: AI across the statewide curriculum program award, which aims to develop a vertically-integrated curriculum in which students from outside traditional computer-science fields can learn AI-related concepts, skills and AI applications to address critical emerging problems. This project develops a core curriculum covering AI fundamentals, ethics and discipline-specific applications that can be deployed across traditional university disciplines and leverages distance-learning to enable students to participate on their own schedule from anywhere with internet.  “The team, which includes Florida A&M University—one of the most prominent HBCUs of the nation and among the largest generators of STEM under-represented graduates—is driven by the core conviction that diversifying the nation’s workforce is key to addressing the social and ethical challenges of our day,” said NSF Program Director Kevin Chou.

“The magnitude of the contributions of data scientists to our society is truly astounding, ranging from IT, healthcare, and defense to clean energy, transportation, and infrastructure. As we progress in advancing our understanding and discoveries in this field, skilled data scientists will be needed across these industries to meet emerging challenges of our society and help innovate improvements in products and services that advance our Nation’s leadership in big data,” said NSF Program Director Raleigh Martin.

To learn more about funded programs under the DSC program, please visit NSF - Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR): Data Science Corps Active Awards | NSF - National Science Foundation

 

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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