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Harnessing the Data Revolution: ICS Researchers and Collaborators Receive $1.5M Data Science Grant

Babak Shahbaba

When Statistics Professor Babak Shahbaba took over as director of the Data Science Initiative, coordinating UCI faculty and students involved in data science activities, the plan was to broaden the initiative’s reach in terms of education, research and external relations. This plan motivated the creation of the Californian Data Experience Transformation (CADET) program, which aims to offer data science training via curriculum development, hands-on experiences, and close interactions with both academic and non-academic organizations.

In drafting the program proposal, Shahbaba partnered with two of his colleagues from the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) — Statistics Professor Mine Dogucu and Chancellor’s Professor of Computer Science and Statistics Padhraic Smyth — as well as Mathematics Professor Roberto (Bob) Pelayo. They worked in close collaboration with Professors Sam Behseta and Jessica Jaynes of California State University Fullerton (CSUF) and Professor Alma Castro of Cypress College, leveraging three tiers of higher learning in California. The Data Science CADET program recently secured $1.5 million in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) over the next three years (with UCI as the lead organization and CSUF and Cypress as collaborating organizations).

Mine Dogucu
Mine Dogucu

Unleashing the Power of Data
The funding is provided through an NSF program called Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR). In particular, the Data Science CADET program is supported through the HDR Data Science Corps (DSC) track, which aims to enable education and workforce development “to help unleash the power of data in the service of science and society.” The HDR DSC track presented the perfect opportunity to expand the educational and training activities of the Data Science Initiative.

As explained in the grant abstract, “a considerable number of students graduating from traditional programs in statistics, mathematics and computer science are not prepared to handle the emerging challenges of data-intensive problems.” The program will address the problem through this collaborative ecosystem between UCI, CSUF and Cypress College, providing data science training coupled with involvement in real-world projects.

Padhraic Smyth
Padhraic Smyth

California Data Experience Transformation
The schools will be recruiting more than 120 CADET data science scholars to participate in a host of activities, including a summer bootcamp, team science training, weekly seminars and a collaborative research project. The goal is to “develop a cross-disciplinary curricular, research and career preparation program in data science” that creates a “paradigm for taking data science training from academia into real-world applications through close partnership with industry, government and nonprofit organizations.”

Even before securing the funding, Shahbaba had started reaching out to potential academic and non-academic partners, such as Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), Fortin Lab, Fleischman Lab, the Center for Hydrometeorology and Remote Sensing, and University Lab Partners. They all expressed an interest in providing projects once the grant went through and students had been recruited.

“Through these partners, CADET data science scholars can help with projects in healthcare, biological sciences and environmental engineering — all fields where data-intensive studies are becoming commonplace,” says Shahbaba. Furthermore, he points out that because the three participating schools are minority serving institutions, the program will also help generate data science opportunities for underrepresented STEM majors. As outlined in the grant abstract, by “implementing new curricula and student and faculty training, the CADET project will establish a data science culture across STEM disciplines that extends beyond the lifetime of this award.”

— Shani Murray