First National Science Foundation Research Experience for Teachers Site in Arkansas

Shengfan Zhang and Eric Specking are principal investigators for the Research Experience for Teachers site in Arkansas.

Shengfan Zhang and Eric Specking are principal investigators for the Research Experience for Teachers site in Arkansas.

A team of researchers at the U of A has been awarded a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to establish the first ever Research Experience for Teachers site in Arkansas. The Arkansas Data Analytics Teacher Alliance program, known as AR-DATA, will provide thirty 9th-12th grade mathematics, computer science and pre-engineering teachers with transformative research experiences that are thematically centered on data analytics with engineering applications aimed at smart and connected health, infrastructure and community.

College of Engineering faculty members Shengfan Zhang, associate professor of industrial engineering, and Eric Specking, assistant dean for recruitment and retention, are the principal investigators for the project. The mission is to promote research-driven high school analytics education, reaching underrepresented students and those in rural areas in Arkansas. AR-DATA will provide professional development opportunities for teachers to attain new knowledge in engineering, analytics, and pedagogies.

During each year of the program, the AR-DATA RET program will recruit and select ten 9th-12th grade mathematics, computer science and Project Lead the Way (i.e., pre-engineering) teachers in Northwest Arkansas school districts, including Benton, Madison and Washington Counties.

The major field and research areas are data analytics, with an interdisciplinary faculty mentor team from Industrial Engineering, Computer Science and Computer Engineering, Civil Engineering and Electrical Engineering.

The program core team members include: Shawn Bell, director of the STEM Center for Mathematics and Science Education; Allison Boykin, assistant professor of educational statistics and research methods; Shannon Davis, managing director of GRAPES and SEEDS Center and business and operations manager for UA Power Group; and Karl Schubert, professor of practice and associate director of the Data Science Program.

"The AR-DATA RET program aims to help prepare 9th-12th grade students for higher education in engineering as well as the urgent needs in analytics workforce to solve engineering problems in the state," Zhang said. "The AR-DATA RET program also aims to effectively integrate research, real world applications and classroom teaching through strong partnership and active engagement among university professors, graduate student researchers, industry mentors and public-school administrators and teachers."

AR-DATA RET presents a novel method in encouraging analytics education and research among faculty and graduate student researchers. With more interaction and communication among all members of the RET site, the faculty will be encouraged and motivated to do the same as the K-12 teachers.

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