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UMass Data Science Leaders Shaping Northeast Big Data Hub

AMHERST, Mass. – Two University of Massachusetts Amherst computer scientists who are helping to shape the intellectual agenda of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Big Data Research and Development Initiative attended the first Northeast Big Data Hub workshop at Columbia University in New York City today.

Professors Beverly Woolf, co-leader of the Northeast “Big Data in Education” focus area, and Andrew McCallum, director of UMass Amherst’s Center for Data Science and a member of the Northeast hub’s executive committee, were co-organizers of the event that attracted more than one hundred people from regional universities, industry, government and non-profits. In 2013, President Barack Obama named computer science education pioneer Woolf a Presidential Innovation Fellow, recognizing her leadership in designing software tutors that respond to a student’s mood and personal learning pace, among other cues, to improve lesson effectiveness.

Among others, McCallum and Woolf heard counter-terrorism expert Michael Leiter, chief strategy officer at top U.S. defense contractor Leidos, Keith Marzullo, director of the Federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development program, with other industry and government leaders, talk about security and other big data topics.

Northeast Hub leaders also discussed corporate data analytics and how companies in the Northeast might benefit from the Hub, and took part in a breakout session focused on data available for sharing and plans for the coming year. NSF last month established four Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs, each focused on different big data challenges, and announced four awards totaling $5 million, which includes $1.25 million to Columbia, the lead Northeast Hub institution and host of today’s meeting.

McCallum said, “The Northeast Hub was assembled with academic, public and private sector leaders to discover data-driven solutions to some of society’s biggest challenges. We each bring critical expertise and diverse perspectives which, when brought together in forums like today’s workshop, will result in new ideas and innovations.”

Woolf said, “Workshops like this present a unique opportunity to set the agenda for data-based approaches in a variety of very important areas. Research and solutions are richer from these multi-disciplinary, multi-sector events.” The Northeast Hub has six focus areas, high priority big data application spokes, including big data in education, co-led by Woolf and computer scientist Ryan Baker at Columbia’s Teachers College. They will look at turning behavioral feedback from online courses into techniques for teaching more effectively. In addition to education, the Northeast Hub will focus on health, energy, cities and regions, finance and discovery science.

The Northeast Hub, with 40 universities and partners in industry, government and non-profits, will bring experts in the public and private sector together to collaborate on data-driven solutions in four theme areas: education, data sharing, ethics and policy, and privacy and security.

In workshops over the next three years, partners will brainstorm and collaborate on projects that promise greatest impact. Northeast Hub groups are expected to address such questions as how to encourage data sharing to maximize the potential for discovery, balancing open data principles against privacy and security concerns, helping cities mine and share data to improve services and adapt to climate change, and how to use patient and environmental data to prevent and treat disease.

The Big Data Hub network idea came in 2012, after President Obama announced a $200 million National Big Data Research and Development Initiative to apply data analytics to education, environmental and biomedical research and national security. NSF is one of six federal agencies involved; it proposed regional innovation hubs to address problems too big for any single industry group or institution to take on alone.

Contact: Janet Lathrop 413/545-0444