While higher education institutions throughout the world went to online learning formats due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, New Mexico State University (NMSU) was no different. This West Big Data Innovation Hub affiliate, however, did one thing differently from many universities: they held a conference to better determine how to ensure that their most vulnerable students were able to continue their educational endeavors.
“With support from the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI Program), our conference helped us understand the effects of the pandemic and its continuing impact on HSI students’ learning,” said Antonio Garcia, project principal investigator and engineering associate dean of academics at NMSU. “As the COVID-19 pandemic became confirmed in all 50 states in March 2020, there was an abrupt move to fully distance learning instruction and closing of college campuses, leading to many uncertainties for all institutions, including NMSU.”
To make longer-term educational plans for low-income NMSU students, who often do not have at-home access to high-speed Internet required for distance learning, Garcia worked with colleagues Julia Parra and Marshall Taylor to obtain a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the three-day virtual conference, which was attended by approximately 150 participants.
As the digital divide is seemingly never ending, students have now been placed in situations whereby they are at home instead of a college campus with readily available Internet-connected computer labs. Garcia said the conference allowed the university administration to create some tools in place to assist these students.
“The pandemic has surfaced great disparities in access amongst the communities we serve in the 13 Western US states,” said Christine Kirkpatrick, West Big Data Innovation Hub deputy director. “We thank NMSU and HSI STEM Hub for lifting the voices of those with insufficient access, so we can remember to not just focus on the highway, but to ensure roads connect to it. We are looking for ways to improve access to our offerings. In our recent COVID-19 Data Challenge, for example, some datasets were too large to transform on the laptops of participants, so we provided cloud access and assistance. This is one small step of many needed to bridge the gap.”
The Building HSI Learning Resilience in the Face of Crisis Conference was funded by NSF Award Number 2041515.
About the West Big Data Innovation Hub: The West Big Data Innovation Hub is one of four regional hubs funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build and strengthen strategic partnerships across industry, academia, nonprofits, and government. The West Hub community aims to catalyze and scale data science for societal needs – connecting research, education, and practice in thematic areas such as natural resources and hazards, metro data science, health, and data-enabled discovery and learning. Coordinated by UC Berkeley’s Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society, the San Diego Supercomputer Center, and the University of Washington, the West Hub region includes contributors and data enthusiasts from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and a global network of partners.
West Big Data Innovation Hub: westbigdatahub.org
New Mexico State University: www.nmsu.edu/
National Science Foundation: www.nsf.gov/
The Big Data Innovation Hubs: bigdatahubs.org