Plus Programs at Duke University

In 2014, an NSF research grant in the Mathematics Department funded a small team of undergraduate students to work together on a small data science project over the summer. With the success of that project, the program now known as Data+ was born. To accommodate more students, Data+ moved to the Rhodes Information Initiative in 2015, which helped leverage the interdisciplinary nature of these data projects. Since 2014, over 275 students have participated in Data+, working on interdisciplinary data projects from all areas of research and business. Data+ is now a 10-week summer research experience in which students join small project teams, collaborate with other teams in a communal environment, learn how to marshal, analyze, and visualize data, all while gaining broad exposure to the modern world of data science. It attracts equally many male and female applicants, and a demographically more diverse group than is typical in STEM fields, evidence that the combination of problem driven projects and team activity can transform the demographics of computing. The interdisciplinary nature of the program attracts students from all majors and interests and creates a unique environment for learning.

The success of the Data+ program over the last few years has inspired other initiatives and departments at Duke to start their own “+” programs, providing students the opportunity to delve more deeply into research topics in their disciplines and with other disciplines in the university.

In 2016, the Franklin Humanities Institute decided to use the framework of Data+ to build their own summer program, Story+. Now in its third year, Story+ is a 6-week summer research experience for undergraduates interested in exploring humanities research approaches (archival research, oral histories, narrative analysis, visual analysis, and more) at Duke University. Students are organized into small project teams and have the opportunity to participate in a flexible mini “curriculum” on research methods and storytelling strategies. Team projects may be led by Duke faculty, Duke librarians, or non-profit organizations, and supervised on a day-to-day basis by graduate student mentors.

The summer of 2018 saw the first year of the Code+ program, run by the Office of Information Technology. Starting as part of the DTech Scholars program, the all-female Code+ team created an app for parking at Duke. The goal of the app was to locate the nearest parking lot to your location that has available spaces. For Duke Hospitals and Duke game days, a mobile parking app could be very helpful! OIT is now working to make this app an official part of wayfinding at Duke. With the success of the 2018 Code+ team, this summer there are now 10 Code+ projects to choose from, led by Jen Vizas and Hugh Thomas in OIT. Students who participate in Code+ will learn all about how to develop apps and should have a working prototype by the end of the summer.

Offering broader opportunities throughout the year, the +Data Science (+DS) program is a Duke-wide program that also began in 2018. Operating in partnership with departments, schools, and institutes to enable faculty, students, and staff to employ data science at a level tailored to their needs, level of expertise, and interests. +DS provides online (digital) and in-person training modules and learning experiences grounded in generalizable data science content, while partnering with individual units or groups to develop additional specialized content. In this way, Duke’s data science activities will be developed collaboratively, synergistically, and strategically.

All of the new Plus Programs at Duke promote cross-disciplinary research between departments. These new ways of learning and researching are changing the way Duke’s curriculum helps students get ahead, and helps faculty increase the reach and breadth of their research projects and programs. If you’re ready to dive deeper into your area of interest, try a Plus Program at Duke!