However, this will not be Schmale and Ross’s first data science-driven field campaign. Last March, they hosted a mini field campaign at Virginia Tech that brought six undergraduate students from Morehouse, Bennett, and Hampden-Sydney to dive deeper into data and decisions research.
With this being the first time that Morgan State University has collaborated on this project, Birol Ozturk, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics, is excited to see how his students will benefit from this new experience.
“We are very excited to participate in this new project at Virginia Tech. I have previously worked on a similar project, where we were able to offer courses at Morgan State University for the first time in collaboration with other universities and we wouldn’t be able to offer them otherwise. I look forward to contributing to the project with my previous experience,” said Ozturk.
For the new HDR DSC Program, 10 Virginia Tech students and five students from each partnering college will be selected annually to help stakeholders answer big questions. The stakeholders represent a variety of research areas, including agriculture, conservation, search and rescue, water quality, transportation, and global health.
Students can select the research area they want to pursue. With their freedom to choose, students can explore new research areas or, alternatively, they can expand upon previous ones.
And, depending on the outcome of these studies, Schmale says that students have the potential to pave their own way to success.
“Through our new program, students are expected to become the next generation of data scientists. They will learn to work in interdisciplinary teams to solve real-world problems in response to stakeholder needs,” said Schmale. “Their research experiences in our program should link them to career opportunities within those respective stakeholder agencies.”
Keri Swaby, the director for undergraduate research in the Office of Undergraduate Research, said that this program can give students quite an advantage as they think about the future of their research journeys.
“Virginia Tech’s Office of Undergraduate Research is excited to partner with this program to offer students joint professional and social programming as a way to build community and increase diversity in research. Like other programs, this one will offer students a unique opportunity to experience what it would be like to be a graduate student at Virginia Tech and could give them an advantage in the application process since they will have already established a relationship with a faculty member,” said Swaby.
Schmale and Ross also hope that the program will help to pipeline undergraduate students to join the BIOTRANS Program, an interdisciplinary graduate program at Virginia Tech that uses collaboration for solving problems at the intersection of engineering and biological sciences.
“This project incorporates both biology and engineering students, who have some idea about design and the details of modeling, and brings those two groups together and learning from each other. It’s very much in the spirit of BIOTRANS,” said Ross.
Michael Wolyniak, an associate professor of biology at Hampden-Sydney College, will also take part in this program, and he is elated to have his students work with other institutions that have world-renowned biology and engineering research programs.
“I have worked with Dr. Schmale before on developing coursework related to bioethics and considering issues in biology and engineering research for a general audience. This project gives us the opportunity to work with an institution that is at the forefront of research on the interface of biology and engineering and to expose our students to resources and opportunities to which they would not ordinarily have access. I am excited to have our students collaborate with students from other institutions to solve biological and engineering problems directly relevant to society,” said Wolyniak.
This assembly of such unique and talented undergraduates from different backgrounds and perspectives will undoubtedly blaze a trail in the field of data science, as previously unexplored questions will lead to answers that haven’t been solved before.
“I imagine that the things that these students discover will lead to new questions and, maybe, new funded spin-off projects. We have seen that happen before with undergraduate research leading to new research areas,” said Ross.
Schmale and Ross acknowledge the National Science Foundation (Award Number 1922516); the Fralin Life Sciences Institute; BIOTRANS; the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science; the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment; and the Data and Decisions Destination Area for their financial support for current and previous projects.