SEAS Learning Innovation Fellows Program Helps Students Work at Intersection of Data and Sustainability Science
With funding provided by the Midwest Big Data Hub (MBDH), the Learning Innovation Fellows Program at the School for Environment and Sustainability helps students work at the intersection of data and sustainability science. Fellows in the semester-long program collaborate with faculty and integrate data analysis activities into case studies on open learning platforms like Gala and Quantitative Undergraduate Biology Education and Synthesis (QUBESHub). After designing a prototype for these integrations, fellows participate in a virtual "Networkshop" to discuss their work with other students, faculty, and professionals. Some fellows also will have the opportunity to pilot their prototype features in the classroom. A key goal of the program is to equip students with data analytics tools that can help tackle a wide range of environmental challenges in the classroom and beyond.
Rahul Agrawal Bejarano, a SEAS master's student, did notable work with ecological data as a fellow in the program. Agrawal Bejarano spearheaded the creation of an analytics platform that helps undergraduate students in the sustainability arena test hypotheses on real-world data. He said this practice is valuable for learners because it "provides an authentic experience that reduces the barriers students face in exploring their interests and solutions to today's problems." Throughout the process, Agrawal Bejarano helped students navigate data by breaking it into more manageable pieces and then offering flexibility to explore it at their own pace.
Agrawal Bejarano is in the process of transitioning to a mentor position for future fellows. In this role, he will produce a tutorial series that enables learners to build similar projects using the RShiny app, regardless of their coding experience. His goal is to "empower and provide everyone with the resources and expertise to develop projects leveraging data to solve today's environment and sustainability challenges."
Agrawal Bejarano noted that with data becoming more accessible, evidence-based policy and data-driven decisions are in high demand. However, the interconnected nature of social-ecological systems makes observations in this field harder to understand. He emphasizes that his work allows us to "separate, filter, narrow in on, and analyze these observations in order to make sense of complex interactions and discern any patterns that may exist." This technical approach to problem-solving gives way for innovative solutions to our world's most pressing challenges.
Learn more about the other teams and administrators affiliated with the Learning Innovation Fellows Program below.
Data Learning for Restoration Ecology
Kyra Hull (Fellow) is a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a first-year graduate student at Grand Valley State University studying biostatistics. She is working on a case about forest restoration, which is bilingual (Spanish and English versions).
Karen Holl (Faculty Advisor) is a professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research focuses on understanding how local and landscape scale processes affect ecosystem recovery from human disturbance and using this information to restore damaged ecosystems. She advises numerous public and private agencies on land management and restoration; recently she has been working to improve outcomes of the effort of the many large-scale tree growing campaigns.
Data Learning to Address Groundwater Contamination
Saba Ibraheem (Fellow) is a second-year health informatics student at the University of Michigan, focusing on data analytics and research in health care. She is working on a case about groundwater contamination, which is bilingual (English and French versions).
Rita Loch-Caruso (Faculty Advisor) is a toxicologist in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, with a research focus on female reproductive toxicology and, in particular, mechanisms of toxicity related to adverse pregnancy outcomes such as premature birth.
Alan Burton (Faculty Advisor) is a professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability and the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan. His research focuses on sediment and stormwater contaminants and understanding contaminant bioavailability processes, effects, and ecological risk at multiple trophic levels. He is also a specialist in ranking stressor importance in human-dominated watersheds and coastal areas.
Data Learning in Livestock Ecologies
Daniel Iddrisu (Fellow) is a second-year master's student in international and regional studies, with a specialization in Africa, at the University of Michigan. He earned a BA in integrated community development from the University for Development Studies, Tamale, Ghana. His research focuses on health, development, gender, and environmental health. The case he is working on takes place on the Greek Island of Naxos, but comprises skills for modeling and analyzing human/livestock interactions more broadly.
Johannes Foufopoulos (Faculty Advisor) is an associate professor at the University of Michigan's School for Environment and Sustainability who focuses his lab research on fundamental conservation biology questions and on issues related to the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases. Major research projects examine how habitat fragmentation, invasive organisms, and global climate change result in species extinction.
Data Learning on Safari
Rahul Agrawal Bejarano (Fellow) has a background in computer science, and he is currently working on a master's degree at the University of Michigan School of Environment and Sustainability with a concentration in sustainable systems. He uses data from a diverse range of sources to shed light on today's environmental challenges and develop innovative solutions, and is working on identifying climate-related vulnerabilities to our supply chains. He is working on a case about the interactions of various wildlife species in the Serengeti.
Charles Willis (Faculty Advisor) is a teaching assistant professor in biology teaching and learning at the University of Minnesota. He is interested in the research and development of pedagogy practices for non-major biology students. In particular, he is focused on studying student-student and instructor-student feedback in online spaces. His research is also concerned with understanding how changing environments shape plant diversity on both evolutionary and ecological time scales. Currently, he is focused on using historical specimen data to study how historic climate change (over the past century) has impacted plant phenology and diversity across North America.
Jeffrey A. Klemens (Faculty Advisor) is an assistant professor of biology at Thomas Jefferson University, where he serves as program director for the undergraduate biology curriculum. His current research activities are focused on the use of agent-based models to describe habitat use by organisms in the urban environment and the role of active learning in science education, particularly the use of systems thinking and other modeling techniques to improve student understanding of complex phenomena.
Data Learning in Detroit’s Eastern Market
Ghalia Ezzedine (Fellow) is a second-year master's student studying health informatics at the University of Michigan. She is interested in leveraging data and digital tools to improve population health. She chose this case because of her interest in nutrition, and the shift in foods available at Detroit's iconic Eastern Market.
Josh Newell (Faculty Advisor) is an associate professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan. He is a broadly trained human-environment geographer, whose research focuses on questions related to urban sustainability, resource consumption, and environmental and social justice. His research approach is often multi-scalar and integrative and, in addition to theory and method found in geography and urban planning, he draws upon principles and tools of industrial ecology, and spatial analysis.
Rebecca Hardin (Principal Investigator) is an anthropologist and associate professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability, where she leads collaborations on the open-source, open-access learning platform Gala and research group on Digital Justice. She also coordinates the Environmental Justice specialization and related certificate program.
Ann E. Russell (Co-Principal Investigator) is an ecosystems ecologist, with special expertise in the biogeochemistry of tropical ecosystems. She is an associate adjunct professor in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management at Iowa State University, and principal investigator of the NSF Research Collaborative network ALIVE: Authentic Learning in Virtual Environments.
M. Drew Lamar (Co-Principal Investigator) is a mathematician and associate professor of biology at the College of William and & Mary. His teaching and research are highly interdisciplinary in nature, using techniques and concepts from mathematics, statistics, biology, and computational sciences. He is co-principal investigator and director of Cyberinfrastructure for the QUBES virtual center (Quantitative Undergraduate Biology Education and Synthesis), with an interest and passion in open-source software development, quantitative biology education, and development of education gateways.
Ed Waisanen (Program Manager) is the program and platform lead for Gala. He has a master's degree in natural resources and environment from the University of Michigan with a focus on environmental informatics and a background in multimedia production. He is focused on developing tools and communities that emphasize curation, open exchange, and narrative approaches to deepen learning.