Press Release

Pace University Awarded NSF Grant To Teach Application of ‘Big Data’ Skills

November 3, 2021
Woman working on a computer.

For today’s undergraduates studying the sciences, having a fundamental understanding of data science is crucial to succeeding in the workforce, which is increasingly focused on “Big Data.” But teaching these skills in a meaningful and relevant way can be a challenge for undergraduate instructors.

Pace University Environmental Science Associate Professor Matthew Aiello-Lammens, PhD, and Biology Associate Professor Erika Crispo, PhD, along with colleagues from 12 peer institutions, are working to change that with a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The $499,354, five-year award, effective last month, will allow the group to continue expanding the BEDE (Biological and Environmental Data Education) Network, with the aim of establishing a diverse, wide-reaching community of college instructors “trained in integrating data science skills across introductory biology and environmental science curricula.”

“This grant epitomizes what we believe in at Pace and helps to put Pace at the forefront of educational innovation,” said Tresmaine Grimes, PhD, dean of Dyson College of Arts and Sciences and School of Education. “The work of Professors Aiello-Lammens and Crispo is inspiring in its aim to be cutting-edge, far-reaching, and cross-disciplinary, and will serve instructors and students not only at Pace, but across the country.”

With this funding, Aiello-Lammens and Crispo further enhance Pace University’s position as a leader in advancing educational pedagogy, which aligns with the University’s newly unveiled Strategic Plan, “Pace Forward.” In fact, the mission and goals outlined for the BEDE Network aligns with many tenets of “Pace Forward,” including the University’s aims to be a source for curricular innovation, partner with external institutions and organizations for research and funding, work towards equity and inclusion, and focus on career readiness for all students.

The BEDE Network also aims to have its reach transcend the science disciplines because the rising prominence of Big Data is not only visible in the STEM fields, but in nearly every aspect of students’ lives – a notion that Aiello-Lammens, Crispo, and their colleagues are acutely aware of.

“We think it’s vital that our students understand how to make sense of these data and use them to make decisions for what they should be doing – from whether to eat certain foods, consider certain medicines, or accept a particular job,” Aiello-Lammens said. “If they have these data science skills in general, then they can apply them both in their work and in their lives.”

“Today we’re able to collect more data more rapidly, collect it on computers, and analyze it on supercomputers,” said Crispo. “It’s becoming more challenging to handle data and analyze it—and it’s becoming increasingly important to give students the skills to be able to do so.”

Toward that end, Aiello-Lammens and Crispo intentionally incorporate data science into all the courses they teach at Pace. The goal of the BEDE Network is to help other instructors do the same, which this NSF grant’s funding supports.

Notably, the BEDE Network was originally founded through a smaller, yearlong “incubator grant” that Aiello-Lammens and colleagues from Kenyon College and Denison University received from the NSF, and Crispo was among the first group of attendees in the seminal stages of the network. The pair hopes to help the BEDE Network expand nationally and internationally.

The Network will work to develop and deliver workshops to “train the teacher” and “train the trainer,” publish a curriculum guide, and host annual network meetings. The first meeting will be held on Pace University’s New York City campus in 2022 and will focus on diversity and inclusion in data science education.

Inclusion and accessibility are at the heart of the BEDE Network’s mission. One of the group’s main goals is to ensure that instructors at any institution – from community colleges to four-year research universities – have access to resources to incorporate data science into their curriculum. Aiello-Lammens and Crispo plan to share examples of modules they’ve taught in their own courses at Pace and build out the already-established BEDE Network website to allow members to share documents and strategies and provide feedback to one another.

About Dyson College of Arts and Sciences

Pace University’s liberal arts college, Dyson College, offers more than 50 programs, spanning the arts and humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and pre-professional programs (including pre-medicine, pre-veterinary, and pre-law), as well as many courses that fulfill core curriculum requirements. The College offers access to numerous opportunities for internships, cooperative education and other hands-on learning experiences that complement in-class learning in preparing graduates for career and graduate/professional education choices.

About Pace University

Pace University has a proud history of preparing its diverse student body for a lifetime of professional success as a result of its unique program that combines rigorous academics and real-world experiences. Pace is ranked the #1 private, four-year college in the nation for upward economic mobility by Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights, evidence of the transformative education the University provides. From its beginnings as an accounting school in 1906, Pace has grown to three campuses, enrolling 13,000 students in bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in more than 150 majors and programs, across a range of disciplines: arts, sciences, business, health care, technology, law, education, and more. The university also has one of the most competitive performing arts programs in the country. Pace has a signature, newly renovated campus in New York City, located in the heart of vibrant Lower Manhattan, next to Wall Street and City Hall, and two campuses in Westchester County, New York: a 200-acre picturesque Pleasantville Campus and the Elisabeth Haub School of Law in White Plains. Follow us on Twitter or on the Pace News website.

About the National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense..." NSF supports basic research and people to create knowledge that transforms the future.

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