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Higher education data from Pew Research Center suggests that there is a long path ahead for increasing diversity, especially in fields pertaining to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) such as computing and engineering. Research shows that Black and Hispanic workers remain underrepresented in the STEM (and overall) workforce when compared to counterparts of other races. According to the research, Black workers make up nine percent of all STEM jobs and Hispanic workers make up eight percent.
As this disparity is gaining more attention, organizations are beginning to take steps to help increase representation in the field. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, also known as NASA, is one of those organizations attempting to make a difference. NASA announced that it will be awarding $11.7 million to eight Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) through a new Data Science Equity, Access, and Priority in Research and Education (DEAP) opportunity.
The eight HBCUs that will receive DEAP funding are Bethune-Cookman University, Fayetteville State University, Florida A&M University, Lincoln University (Missouri), Morgan State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, North Carolina Central University and Prairie View A&M University. According to a press release on the announcement, NASA says that the awards will enable HBCU students as well as faculty to conduct innovative data science research while also contributing to the agency’s mission.
Bethune-Cookman’s project will focus on machine learning-based development of a virtual constellation of satellites while Fayetteville State’s project will build on the Institute for Multi-agent Perception through Advanced Cyberphysical Technologies’ (IMPACT) current capacity. Florida A & M’s project will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to better understand the science of concentrated salt solutions and the formation of ring-like deposits called evaporites. Lincoln’s project will use machine learning aimed at developing new data analytic approaches to problem-solving in various areas of Earth science research.
Morgan State’s project will feature both machine learning and artificial intelligence methods to create an urban aerosol database for the Baltimore-Washington area. NCAT’s project is expected to harness data science for flood monitoring and management while NCCU will focus on expanding its capacity to detect the impacts of floods and other natural hazards. Prairie View A&M is tasked with a project focused on making NASA science more discoverable and accessible to a broad audience.
Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy noted that the agency was “pleased to make progress through awards like this to intentionally build the STEM pipeline of the future, especially in communities of color.” NASA has previously awarded over $23 million to HBCUs in 2013. More than half of the funds were allocated toward research and development, and the remaining funds were used for training and financial assistance to students.