Got data? Of course you do! Digital information flows freely across every segment of the economy.

But harnessing the power of data takes specialized skills in math, statistics, coding, and more. The Kansas Data Science Consortium (KDSC) launched last year to build those skills statewide.

At its core, the KDSC links learners and employers to advance both workforce and economic development.

Here’s how.

Businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations partner with the KDSC, sharing data for class projects. College students then work on those projects as part of a course. As they learn to wrangle and analyze data, students glean insights for their partner organization.

In spring 2023, 85 students enrolled in the consortium’s new data science courses — called  Community Data Labs — at Kansas State University, the University of Kansas, and Wichita State University. The students worked with data from 17 organizations, creating reports, dashboards, slide decks, and code as requested by the organization.

“Working with the KDSC has been fantastic,” said Derek Kwan, executive director of the Lied Center of Kansas. “Most arts organizations and nonprofits in general do not have the bandwidth to rigorously analyze their customer relationship management databases. The insight provided by KDSC student Nikita Kuzin has been invaluable in helping the Lied Center refine our approaches to both fundraising and attracting ticket buyers. We look forward to a continued relationship.”

What’s next for the KDSC?

“We are actively seeking students and partner organizations for spring 2024,” said Will Duncan, assistant research professor at the University of Kansas and co-lead for the KDSC.

Students at K-State, KU, and WSU can enroll in the course this spring. Next year, the team will infuse its curricula into courses at smaller universities and colleges across Kansas.

An online repository of projects and teaching materials is also in the works. This repository is being designed by the consortium members and will benefit schools and organizations of all types who seek to enrich their data science programming.

“It is exciting to see the KDSC forming from a vague concept into a vibrant venture that combines academia with small businesses and non-profit organizations,” said Lior Shamir, associate professor of computer science at K-State and one of the instructors the Community Data Labs course.

Early Successes

Students worked on a wide range of datasets in spring 2023, from urban streams to adult sports, broadband access to bachelor’s degrees, as featured at KDSC’s spring conference.

For example, the Kansas Department of Commerce sponsored a project that gave students the opportunity to examine real-world wage data in the state.

“That work has led to a funded ‘Return on Investment’ project that will help the Department of Commerce and companies in Kansas understand the costs and benefits of the registered apprenticeship program,” said Dr. Duncan.

“Taking [the data science course] was a great experience, and I gained a lot of hands-on experience by working on a real-world dataset,” said Nikhil Saka, 2023 graduate from Wichita State University. “This [course] enhanced my data analytic skills and data visualization skills. It also helped me understand machine learning algorithms better.”

About the KDSC team

Dr. Duncan co-leads the KDSC alongside colleagues from seven colleges and universities in Kansas. Tim Pleskac, the originator and first director of the KDSC, recently left KU to become a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University Bloomington. This August, Dr. Pleskac passed the leadership torch to Michael Branicky, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at KU, and Jeffrey Girard, assistant professor of psychology at KU. Other team members include:

  • Janice Akao, professor of accounting, Butler Community College
  • Gryffin Eason, project manager, University of Kansas
  • Edina Harsay, graduate research assistant, University of Kansas
  • Safia Malallah, research associate, Kansas State University
  • Ana Maradiaga, assistant professor of chemistry, Donnelly College
  • Jiji Osiobe, assistant professor in business and economics, Baker University
  • Sergio Salinas, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, Wichita State University
  • Lior Shamir, professor of computer science, Kansas State University
  • Suzanne Smith, associate professor of math, Johnson County Community College
  • Judy Smrha, chair and professor of business and economics, Baker University
  • Fujian Yan, assistant educator, Wichita State University

How the data science hub got its start

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 — like Kansas. The team has completed just the first year of a five-year effort to build data science capabilities in Kansas.

several people sit at table viewing digital poster

Data science poster session

University of Kansas student Michael Perry discusses his data science project with Suzanne Smith, associate professor of mathematics at Johnson County Community College at the spring 2023 Kansas Data Science Consortium regional conference.

How to learn more

For information about spring course offerings, contact Dr. Shamir at K-State (, Dr. Yan at WSU (, and Dr. Duncan ( at KU. The data science website also describes KU’s curriculum.

Organizations may learn more about how to partner with KDSC at its website. All other inquiries, including how to add data science modules to your courses, may be directed to KDSC Program Coordinator Gryffin Eason at