DSPG Young Scholars Use Data to Solve Local Community Problems

Screenshot of virtual meeting of the DSPG teamIowa State University Data Science for the Public Good (DSPG) Young Scholars Program (https://dspg.iastate.edu) is in full swing as nine student interns and three graduate fellows learn to apply data science skills to solve local community problems through the identification and discovery of datasets that can be used to better analyze, visualize, and understand the problem and their potential solutions.

The DSPG began May 26 and will run through August 7. The program is led by a coalition of five land-grant universities in three states: Iowa State University, Oregon State University, Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, and Virginia State University. The ISU team is led by Cass Dorius, associate professor of Human Development and Family Studies; Shawn Dorius, associate professor of sociology; Todd Abraham, assistant director of data and analytics, Iowa Integrated Data System; Heike Hofmann, professor in charge of data science; Adisak Sukul, associate teaching professor of computer science; and Christopher Seeger, professor and extension specialist in geospatial technologies.

While the ISU DSPG team had planned initially to meet face-to-face throughout the summer and to work with six community projects, COVID-19 required a change of projects, online instruction and a shift to a virtual office. A typical day for ISU’s program starts with a virtual coffee group meeting each morning to see how everyone is doing and review the plans and schedule for the day. Students then spend the rest of the morning meeting with one of their two project teams and attending online instructional workshops. The shift to an all online program brought about the opportunity and necessity to integrate teaching across all the universities with various faculty presenting areas of data science expertise. Noon hours often include an online brownbag guest lecture and afternoons are reserved for additional training and project work. The ISU teams are currently involved in three projects working with ISU Extension and Outreach and three projects with the Iowa Department of Public Health:

  • Extension Indicators 1 - develop and evaluate composite indicators to assess county-level scales of economic and human capital to support the work of extension and outreach professionals.
  • Extension Indicators 2 - develop and evaluate composite indicators to assess county-level scales of social and natural capital to support the work of extension and outreach professionals.
  • Extension Hotline – analyze Extension Hotlines data and develop tools to support automation of system reports.
  • Systems of care in Iowa - quantify and map community health resources and formal systems of care infrastructure in Iowa communities.
  • Substance use recovery - identify the substance use recovery infrastructure in Iowa, conduct a spatial analysis of these resources, and develop visualizations and datasets that communicate information about the recovery infrastructure.
  • Alcohol use in Iowa – identify the demographic and spatial characteristics of alcohol abuse in Iowa to identify the at-risk population in Iowa.

Students will complete the program August 7 and will provide project presentations in both poster and web formats during a multistate symposium. Plans are currently underway to provide the program again in 2021.

The Data Science for the Public Good (DSPG) Young Scholars is funded in part by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The DSPG program support our shared goal of promoting rural prosperity by addressing the USDA’s, Research, Education, and Economics Action Plan and NIFA’s research, education and extension goals for training, workforce development, and evidence-based decision making. The program also addresses the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Economic Mobility and Opportunity team’s goal of creating and advancing community strategies to make data-driven decisions, particularly among rural places.