August 19, 2014

ASU Using NSF Grant to Form Data Analytics Program

MONTGOMERY, Ala., Aug. 19 — Big data is a term increasingly used in technology sectors, referring to a volume of data so massive and complex that it becomes difficult to process using standard database and software techniques. IT experts around the world say that big data is changing the way people work together, and now ASU will play a major role in making that change more manageable.

Alabama State University’s Department of Mathematics and Computer Science has received a $399,976 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish a Big Data Analytics Lab to help extract meaningful value from big data, the first lab of its kind in the region. The grant period ends July 31, 2017.

ASU will partner with Auburn University to conduct the research project, titled “Targeted Infusion Project: Infusing Data-Enabled Active Learning in Mathematics and Statistics Courses,” under the direction of Drs. Carl S. Pettis, Asheber Abebe and Rajendran Swamidurai.

The grant will be used to establish an online community portal that will provide a means of dissemination, communication and community involvement; to train undergraduate and graduate students, as well as ASU faculty in the area of big data; and to have annual workshops to share research project findings with faculty from diverse institutions, including high schools, two- and four-year colleges and industrial practitioners.

“While STEM careers in academia and industry are increasingly requiring technical skills for dealing with the analysis of big data, undergraduate courses in mathematics and statistics are typically not equipped to provide adequate training to students in data-driven methods that integrate theory and computation,” Pettis said. “This project aims to advance the state of undergraduate mathematics education by adapting and integrating big data analytics in mathematics courses. This project will provide a better understanding of how big data analytics can be integrated within a classroom environment. The results obtained will translate into a framework of pedagogy and materials required for teaching big data analytics in mathematics courses.”

Big data is arriving from multiple sources at an astounding velocity, volume and variety, said Swamidurai.

“Recent advances in technology, such as e-commerce, smart phones and social networking, are generating new types of data on a scale never seen before — a phenomenon known as ‘big data.’ Industry demands workers that can retrieve useful information from very complex, unstructured data,” Swamidurai said. “The mathematics courses at ASU help students develop the logical thinking and problem-solving skills, while the statistics courses introduce students to methods of collection, organization, analysis and interpretation of data; however, big data analytics requires new mathematical and statistical methods and algorithms developed specifically for use with big data.”

Swamidurai said that equipping students with such skills will greatly enhance the employability of ASU’s mathematics and computer science graduates, helping them capture a “lion’s share of the job market.”

A recent survey of senior Fortune 500 and federal agency business and technology leaders by the Harvard Business Review found that “85 percent of the organizations surveyed had funded big data initiatives underway or in the planning stage.” The same survey reports that 70 percent of the respondents plan to hire data scientists, but nearly all report finding employees skilled in big data analytics as challenging to impossible.