This spring K-State, KU, and WSU are piloting a new data science course. But it’s not just for students—17 community partners also benefit by gaining free data science solutions.

This project-based course, called Community Data Labs, is speerheaded by the Kansas Data Science Consortium (KDSC).

“[This] is a place where Kansas organizations, businesses and municipalities can find data science solutions to the problems they face,” said Tim Pleskac, lead investigator for the project and professor of psychology at the University of Kansas.

Dr. Pleskac worked with KU Assistant Research Professor Will Duncan and Project Coordinator Gryffin Eason to recruit dozens of organizations to partner with the Community Data Labs, with 17 providing class projects this year. Partners represent a broad spectrum of economic sectors, mostly from Kansas, including the manufacturing companies Trane and Ferrellgas, the non-profit Lawrence Arts Center, and the Wichita-based tech company Viaanix. There are also a couple out-of-state partners, and one from the United Kingdom.

Rather than working solely from a textbook like many conventional courses, the 86 students enrolled in the Community Data Labs work in small groups on projects provided by the partner organizations. No one knows yet what they will find as they delve deeper into the datasets.

As KDSC’s signature initiative, this course has the potential to impact both economic and workforce development for Kansas. For example, college students gain valuable hands-on experience that could shape their future career paths. Community partners gain free data-driven solutions that could impact how their organizations operate.

Enrollment includes 15 students at the University of Kansas, 18 at Kansas State University, and 53 at Wichita State University. The course is taught  independently at each university. Dr. Duncan teaches the KU course. The WSU course is taught by Fujian Yan, Assistant Educator, and Sergio Salinas, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science. The K-State course is taught by Lior Shamir, associate professor of computer science, and Safia Malallah, Project Coordinator.

Dr. Duncan said the course is fun to teach, adding “the students are amazing. They are talented and motivated, and so working with them is really rewarding.”

The KDSC is a key educational pillar of the ARISE project, a major statewide initiative in Kansas funded by the National Science Foundation Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, EPSCoR. Through EPSCoR, NSF builds research and education capacity in traditionally underfunded states and jurisdictions across the U.S. — like Kansas.

This is just the first year of a five year effort to build data science capabilities in Kansas. Plans are underway to expand the course curriculum to other universities and colleges across the state.

The public is invited to learn more about the KDSC at its first annual conference on April 29, 2023, in Lawrence, Kansas. The event is free, but registration is required.

Community Data Labs metrics for spring 2023. Tap on the right side of the image to advance slides forward.

Graphic showing how KDS connects students and organizations