Partnering To Cultivate Data Science
The abundance of data available today, akin to Coleridge’s famous line, “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink,” highlights our lack of expertise and resources to extract valuable insights. In the agriculture and food sectors, data literacy skills are crucial for informed decision-making, making data insights valuable for more efficient, sustainable, and resilient practices. Just as breeding tools, mechanization, and agrochemicals led to major advancements in the past, a data revolution is underway in agriculture, creating emerging agricultural technologies in data analytics.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has proposed a new initiative to empower the state’s youth to leverage the data revolution to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. Led by Dr. Jenny Keshwani, a biological systems engineer and Science Literacy Specialist, the project aims to promote systems thinking skills, teamwork and resiliency skills, and awareness of STEM-related careers. Called “Cultivate ACCESS to Data Science in Agriculture,” the program seeks to equip young people with an expanded vision for data-infused agricultural technologies while encouraging the participation of underrepresented student populations in agricultural and natural resources careers.
The project will use an integrated systems thinking approach, virtual near-peer mentoring, and community influencing to support youth in their learning journey. One of the most exciting aspects of the project is the partnership between the University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty and external partners, including Rainwater Basin Joint Venture and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Project partners will provide their expertise on wetland and natural resource conservation, including current scientific data and information about the ways people collaborate in agriculture.
The UNL faculty involved with the project includes experts from different departments with diverse experiences. Curriculum development efforts will be led by Dr. Erin Ingram, a community engagement coordinator. Leah Sandall, an online educator and coordinator, provides direction for the development of remote learning materials. Dr. Deepak Keshwani, an expert in systems modeling and educational video game development, will coordinate the development of educational video games and interactive modules. Dr. Erin Blankenship, a statistician and expert in statistics education, will provide content expertise on data science and statistical methods. Dr. Troy Gilmore, a hydrologist, provides imaging and water quality expertise in designing educational modules. Dr. Heather Akin, an expert in science communication, provides science communication expertise. Finally, Dr. Mary Emery, an experienced evaluator, will manage project evaluation.
By promoting systems thinking skills, teamwork and resiliency skills, development of collective action skills, and awareness and understanding of STEM-related careers, the initiative hopes to inspire the next generation of leaders who will make a difference in our world. The project is expected to reach 60 high school-aged youth and 15 college students over the 4-year funding period. With a skilled and socially conscious workforce, we can harness the power of data to make our lives and our planet more sustainable, efficient, and resilient.