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Arkansas wins $20M National Science Foundation EPSCoR research grant for data analytics

 June 05, 2020


Chelsea O’Kelley
AEDC Director of Communications
[email protected] 

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (June 5, 2020) – The Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s Division of Science and Technology and our university partners recently won a National Science Foundation Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF EPSCoR) Track-1 grant for $20 million to be awarded over five years. The State of Arkansas will match the grant with an additional $4 million.

The project, “Data Analytics that are Robust and Trusted” (DART) will work to systematically investigate key aspects of three barriers to big data (management, security/privacy, and model interpretability) and develop novel, integrated solutions to address them. Big data involves data sets that are too large or complex for traditional data-processing application software to process. NSF has identified data analytics and data science education as one of 10 priority areas for research funding.

“This award continues to validate the strides that Arkansas is making as the state transitions from a primarily agricultural economy to a more diverse, data-driven economy,” said Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “Computer science education has been a priority in my administration from Day One because it affects every Arkansan, both producers and consumers. I’m proud of the many entities that are coming together to make this grant possible, and I can’t wait to see how the results of their research impact our economic bottom line.”

The project will start on July 1, 2020, and will end on June 30, 2025. It will have the largest footprint of any EPSCoR project in Arkansas, encompassing wide geographic and institutional diversity. It addresses three of the NSF’s Big 10 Ideas: Harnessing the data revolution, the future of work at the human technology frontier, and growing convergence research.

“We are thrilled to receive this research grant from the National Science Foundation and can’t wait to get started working with our academic partners,” Department of Commerce Secretary and Executive Director of AEDC Mike Preston said. “Arkansas has several pockets of computer science excellence. What sets this project apart is that DART brings together some of the best talent at colleges throughout the state in an effort to leverage our strengths in the science and technology field and improve the quality and quantity of the state’s skilled workers in the industry.”

AEDC will administer the grant funds, working with nine colleges and universities throughout the state including Arkansas State University, Philander Smith College, Southern Arkansas University, Shorter College, the University of Arkansas, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and the University of Central Arkansas.

“This project is a great example of collaboration as researchers from various institutions come together to improve research capability and competitiveness in this jurisdiction through fundamental research in data science and engineering,” said NSF EPSCoR program manager Jeanne Small. “The project also contributes to one of the ‘10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments’: Harnessing The Data Revolution. The project aims to develop an innovative educational pathway to train the next generation of data scientists, and it has the potential to benefit the entire nation through advances in data analytics, big data management, and machine learning.”

Members of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation are supportive of the award:

“Improving education and research in data analytics will help meet the demands of Arkansas businesses and allow them to remain competitive,” said Sen. John Boozman. “I’m pleased to support this funding that will ensure the next generation of employees has the skills to support the long-term growth and development of Natural State businesses.”

Sen. Tom Cotton said, “This grant will improve Arkansas’ research capabilities, helping our colleges and universities solve complex problems that will lead to future innovations. I’m happy to support the Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s mission with this important investment in our state’s future.”

“Robust and accurate data is critical for transforming research into practical benefits,” said Rep. Rick Crawford. “The DART grant will enable Arkansas educational institutions to access current and reliable data to further research goals, while progressing Arkansas toward a data-driven economy. As innovation continues in agriculture and more data- and technology-centric careers are created, communities will have opportunities to enable entrepreneurs to enter the Arkansas and global marketplaces.”

The sentiment is echoed by Rep. French Hill. “I am proud to have supported Arkansas’ successful application for federal funding to investigate data sharing and appreciate AEDC’s leadership in leveraging $20 million in federal funding into $24 million,” he said. “Currently, less than 10 percent of federal research and development funding is shared across half of U.S. states, meaning that states like Arkansas are missing out on opportunities for high-tech business growth and high-tech skills development. Importantly, though, three of Arkansas’ four HBCUs, Philander Smith College, Shorter College, and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, will directly benefit, creating more career and technical opportunities for these students.” 

According to Rep. Bruce Westerman, “Millions of dollars and hours have resulted in data and information that would be useful to Arkansas communities, but unfortunately, organizations don’t always have the right resources to access that information. The DART program will equip several institutions across the state with resources to conduct outreach and research. I look forward to seeing how this grant money better serves our communities.”

Rep. Steve Womack said, “Arkansas is a hub of innovation, and this strategic investment is a testament to the novel work happening in the Natural State. By engaging our academic institutions and leveraging our brightest minds, this project will advance data analytics and strengthen our skilled workforce. I congratulate AEDC and look forward to seeing how DART propels our technology capabilities into the future.” 

National Science Foundation EPSCoR was founded in 1979 in response to concern over the uneven distribution of federal research and development grants. EPSCoR awards undergo a rigorous, multi-stage review process and represent the highest quality research. They serve as a mutually beneficial federal-state partnership; aligning with state and institutional needs, while concurrently meeting national standards for intellectual merit, quality and impact. EPSCoR increases Arkansas’ research capabilities, allowing Arkansas researchers to compete for research funding more effectively.


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