The University of Michigan-Flint has announced the establishment of the Institute for Data Engineering, Analytics and Science, also known as IDEAS. Housed in the university's Murchie Science Building, IDEAS will coordinate the teaching, research and use of data-related concepts, pairing UM-Flint faculty expertise and student energy with community partners and industry needs.
"We realized that our students had the interest and expertise to solve a lot of the day-to-day problems that are faced by local businesses, governments and community partners," said Cam McLeman, associate professor of mathematics and IDEAS director. "We have a perfect marriage of needs – our community partners have reams of data whose careful analysis could greatly support their missions, and we have students with energy and data-science skills that need honing on the messy realities of real-life datasets."
The announcement comes as organizations and agencies across the country continue to generate massive amounts of data but need more resources to process and analyze it on their own, creating a unique opportunity for UM-Flint faculty and students to offer their talents and expertise. The institute's launch is also well-timed with other university initiatives, particularly with the College of Innovation & Technology, which is launching new data analytics and data science degree programs this fall.
"There is an amazing amount of mathematics in data science," McLeman said. "It's often invisible in that when people think of data science, they typically think only of spreadsheets and computers. Part of the motivation for IDEAS is to foster a more all-encompassing view. Data science is pervasive in every field of study, both in higher education and the private sector, where businesses try to make sense of overwhelming volumes of data."
With UM-Flint's Office of Research & Economic Development, IDEAS will partner with local businesses and academic and government partners to learn about their needs and provide data consulting and training services.
The primary goal is to serve as a campuswide data science resource center for various data-related needs, including student support services, data analysis and management, and a point of contact for the campus with external partners. The institute will serve as a training ground for students and faculty development, who can engage with real-world data science projects and assist institute partners with research projects and problem-solving. Another goal for the new institute is to generate a portfolio of funded research based on the expertise of affiliated faculty and help support the faculty in proposal writing for grant-funded research.
"Data science is in high demand, and we have students and faculty in many disciplines who are experts in that domain," McLeman said. "Harnessing that expertise by making connections across disciplines will grow shared knowledge and skills in data science, which also reaches into many other academic fields. An example might be in the field of English, where remarkable data science applications help with historical document retrieval, learning handwriting, deducing document authorship, and language processing."
Initially, the vision for IDEAS will focus on the impact on students. Projects will have a faculty lead and serve either as a senior capstone class or as the basis for work-study projects or research assistantships. "We're just getting started, so anyone with an interesting idea can bring it to us, and if you've got energy and passion to work on something, we'll try to support that as best we can," said McLeman. "As the institute takes shape, and the skills of its members grow, it promises to serve an ever-expanding demand for data science both on and off campus."
Robb King is the director of marketing and communications at UM-Flint. He can be reached at email@example.com.