Innovative learning community debuts in Hillenbrand Hall

The reliance on personal technology devices has led to an explosion in the amount of raw data produced in society. Phones. Tablets. Laptops. Medical devices. Security networks. Databases. All monitoring, measuring, recording and producing data.

The machine you are using to read this article is one of more than 20 billion devices that are connected to the internet. By 2030, it is estimated that 1 trillion devices will be connected to the internet. All of these devices will constantly produce data.

Data scientists are the critical link that transform this data into information that can be applied to solve real-word problems. The study of this data affects every citizen and is needed in every sector. Data science solutions are applied to everything from preventive maintenance in manufacturing to food science initiatives that address food insecurity. Data science concepts are used to make legislative decisions, recommend treatment for medical patients and offer business solutions for corporations.

In order to address the worldwide need for data scientists, University Residences’ Residential Academic Initiatives has partnered with Dr. Mark Daniel Ward, professor of statistics, to create a new learning community. Known as The Data Mine, this learning community combines living, learning and research components to introduce students to data science concepts and equip them with the tools to create solutions for real-world problems. Members of The Data Mine will be part of a team, living, studying and ultimately, performing data-driven research together.

“Every student has unique expectations for their own education and career,” says Ward. “By uniting academic, residential and research components with professional development, we create a welcoming environment for all participating students while paying specific attention to each individual’s backgrounds and goals.”

The Learning Community concept is one that has already seen successful implementation and expansion in University Residences. The program has grown to include more than 70 unique learning communities, which serve as the educational home for more than 3,000 students. This fall marks the second consecutive year with at least a six percent growth rate in learning community participation.

The Data Mine learning community incorporates the successful aspects of these communities while simultaneously breaking the mold and expanding into new territories. While many universities have adopted the learning community-based approach to academic and residential partnerships, The Data Mine is unique in housing up to 14 data-themed communities that perform research, all under one roof. The Data Mine is open to students of all majors, a step away from typical residential programs that focus on a specific major.

The Data Mine is aligned with Purdue’s Giant Leaps Sesquicentennial Campaign and is part of the Ideas Festival theme, Giant Leaps in Artificial Intelligence, Algorithms, and Automation: Balancing Humanity and Technology. The Ideas Festival is the centerpiece of the campaign and connects world-renowned speakers and Purdue expertise in a conversation on the most critical problems and opportunities facing the world.

“This is the first living, learning community of its kind,” says Dr. Carl Krieger, director of residential life. “There may be pieces and parts that other schools have done, but the size and formalization of what we’re doing here sets it apart. There is nothing else like it.”

The Data Mine currently houses 94 students in Hillenbrand Hall. University Residences officials project 10-14 learning communities, each housing 25-100 students, to be in place by 2019-20. The target goal for participation in The Data Mine is 800 students, all of whom will be housed in Hillenbrand Hall.

Class membership in The Data Mine ranges from first-year through upper-level students. While some sections of The Data Mine require specific prerequisite classes, many cohorts are open to any undergraduate student with an interest in data science. University Residences officials say early returns suggest that a nearly even split in membership between first-year and returning students is likely.

Residents in The Data Mine will be able to take advantage of facility enhancements to Hillenbrand Hall, including renovated study areas, technology upgrades, additional space to interact with faculty and a further commitment to use current space for academic purposes. Dr. Ward, for example, has relocated his office to Hillenbrand and teaches a statistics seminar in the atrium of the dining court. All renovations are designed to facilitate faculty-student interactions in the residential environment.

“Data Mine learning communities are supported by more than 100 faculty members who will share knowledge from distinct backgrounds and experiences,” says Ward. “Each faculty member’s involvement allows us to create individual connections with students in such a way that those students can envision a successful outcome within any field of study or career they choose to pursue.”

Each Data Mine cohort requires different commitments in the number and types of classes students will take. What they all have common however, is that students will be using real-world data in their learning environment.

“Each community has a tangible piece of data they will work with, whether it’s internal to the department or from an external corporate partner,” says Krieger, director of residential life.

Each learning community in The Data Mine revolves around a data science research project. Approved projects for 2019-20 include topics in the healthcare industry, robotics, manufacturing and legislative governance. It is important to note that projects are not limited to science, technology, engineering or mathematics, with specific outcomes geared towards non-STEM majors such as philosophy.

The Data Mine is part of Purdue University’s Integrative Data Science Initiative, which is designed to position the University and its graduates at the forefront of data science research. The Data Mine is among the first tangible pieces of the initiative to be put in motion.

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