The Information Initiative’s Data+ Program offers exciting opportunities for undergraduates and graduates to use real data to answer real-world questions, and will start its second official summer program on May 23, 2016.
“Data+ is a fantastic way of organizing mentored interdisciplinary research that engages with real-world problems,” said Ed Balleisen, Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. He also noted the value of having diverse teams work in close proximity to one another over the program’s 10 weeks. “Not only do team members collaborate on their particular data challenges, but all the teams learn from each other, sometimes through sharing work in progress, sometimes by sharing specific expertise about coding strategies, statistical analysis or other aspects of data analytics.”
During its first year in 2015, the Data+ Project teams were an enormous success, and enrollment has increased almost 50 percent over last year. Sixty-seven students have enrolled in 2016’s Data+ Program. Student project teams work in the same building so that teams can share information and collaborate throughout the program.
The seeds for Data+ were planted in 2011, with a research training grant from the National Science Foundation on Structure and Complex Data that was shared by the Mathematics and Statistics Department, with John Harer as the Principal Investigator. The goal of this grant was to bring the theoretical methodology being developed in Mathematics, Statistics and Machine Learning to young people studying in quantitative fields. The program ran as such for the next three summers, with stipends for 10 undergrads to work on small data projects. In 2015, the expanded program moved to the Information Initiative at Duke, and was officially named Data+.
Data+ Coordinators Paul Bendich and Ashlee Valente work with each project team mentor to ensure that students understand what each client is requesting from the data they provide. Data+ projects must be well-constructed, well-thought out, and they must be able to reach specific goals at the end of 10 weeks.
While 10 of the $5,000 Data+ summer stipends are still covered by the NSF grant, Data+ funds its 55 other stipends and programmatic support with help from the Provost’s Office, the Information Initiative at Duke, the Social Science Research Initiative, and clients who would like to have their data be part of a student project.
Data+ clients can be Duke faculty from other disciplines and departments, or from organizations outside of Duke who wish to answer questions about their data, identify trends or clusters, or solve a problem. These clients work with a graduate student or post-doc project mentor on each team, who ensures that the project is addressing the clients’ questions and goals.