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NEWS
NSF Grant Awarded To Virginia Tech Professors
January 7, 2020

According to information provided by Virginia Tech, David Schmale, a professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Shane Ross, a professor in the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering in the College of Engineering, have received a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Both Schmale and Ross are affiliated faculty members of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech.

With financial support provided by the NSF grant; 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, the professors aim to provide the tools for the next generation of scientists that will tackle big data sciences challenges.

Schmale and Ross plan to launch an NSF Harnessing the Data Revolution: Data Science Corps (HDR DSC) program at Virginia Tech, which will offer opportunities to underserved biology and engineering undergraduate students.

This three-year program will include undergraduate engineering and biology students from Virginia Tech and partnering colleges, such as Morehouse College, an all-male historically Black college and university (HBCU) in Georgia; Morgan State University, an HBCU in Maryland; Bennett College, an all-female HBCU in North Carolina; and Hampden-Sydney College, an all-male college in Virginia.

“A lot of the technology and resources that we have here at Virginia Tech are just not available at other institutions,” Prof. Schmale noted. “We can leverage our resources to provide unique opportunities for underserved students. I had such a rich experience as an undergraduate at the University of California, Davis. Now, it’s time to pay it forward with this new undergraduate data sciences program that will provide unique research opportunities for undergrads from multiple universities.”

In the fall of 2020, Schmale and Ross will co-teach a capstone course titled Data and Decisions at the Engineering/Biology Interface on the Virginia Tech campus. Students from partnering colleges will take the class online, where they can learn and interact in real time.

Students will engage with the Computational Modeling and Data Analytics Program, and will be integrated into the Data and Decisions Destination Area, an area of focus that touches all of the units, colleges, and departments at Virginia Tech.

Students will work in multi-university teams toward addressing a pressing need, identified from participating stakeholders, with each team embodying an array of scientific and engineering expertise. Once a problem has been identified and laid out, student teams will submit their ideas and some will be selected for a data collection field campaign the following summer, based out of Virginia Tech.

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.

“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 Prof. Schmale. “Their research experiences in our program should link them to career opportunities within those respective stakeholder agencies.”


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