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First UW Provost’s Strategic Investment Fund Collaborator Awards Selected

April 26, 2021

Ten collaborative projects aimed at providing multidimensional benefits to the University of Wyoming and the state are moving forward with funding from a new program in UW’s Office of Academic Affairs.

The first UW Provost’s Strategic Investment Fund (PSIF) projects address issues ranging from community preparedness for drought in Wyoming, to working with Wyoming’s sovereign tribal nations to harness their knowledge of animal and plant species, to using data shared across Wyoming to better combat invasive plant species, to a “Pioneer Program” that will train and connect skilled students with Wyoming entrepreneurs.

The selected projects were drawn from teams across multiple UW colleges that demonstrated how they will use design thinking to harness UW’s existing human capital and institutional capacities to advance understanding of, and provide tangible solutions to, targeted problems, UW Interim Provost Anne Alexander says.

“The call for proposals was responded to by 35 interdisciplinary teams of faculty, spanning every UW college and multiple community college, community, nonprofit, Wyoming government and private partnerships,” Alexander says. “The 10 ‘collaboratories’ were selected for investment based on their multidimensional benefits to UW and Wyoming; their focus on the themes of the competition; and their engagement with students and external partners.”

The selected projects are:

-- “A Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence Learning Platform” -- Development of a learning platform that leverages artificial intelligence to enhance delivery of distance courses for students. Collaborators are Amy Banic, of the Department of Computer Science; Justin Piccorelli, of the School of Politics, Public Affairs and International Studies; Tiger Robison, of the Department of Music; and Emma-Jane Alexander, of the Shell 3D Visualization Center.

-- “Native American Species Names Project” -- Integration of the names by which the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho people know Wyoming plants and animals into UW’s Wyoming Natural Diversity Database (WYNDD). Collaborators are Gary Beauvais, of WYNDD; Caskey Russell, of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Program; and Reinette Tendore, of the Native American Education, Research and Cultural Center.

-- “Developing ‘Smart’ Data Systems to Improve Invasive Plant Science and Management” -- Using large-scale, high-resolution data to enhance the management of invasive plant species in Wyoming. Collaborators are Brian Mealor, of UW’s Sheridan Research and Extension Center and the Department of Plant Sciences; WYNDD; the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center; the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management; the Wyoming Weed and Pest Council; the Wyoming Game and Fish Department; the Northeast Wyoming Invasive Grasses Working Group; and others.

-- “Next-Generation Secure Digital Ecosystems at the Nexus of Climate and Energy” -- A pilot project aimed at creating a carbon credit ecosystem using smart contracts that operate in conjunction with blockchain technology. Collaborators are Soheil Saraji, of the Department of Petroleum Engineering; Mike Borowczak, of the Department of Computer Science; Christelle Khalaf, of the Center for Business and Economic Analysis; Alison Mercier, of the School of Teacher Education; Fred McLaughlin, of the School of Energy Resources; and Bradley Rettler, of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies.

-- “Gateways to Computational Thinking: Integrating the Arts and Geosciences into Rural Early Childhood Education” -- Development of mobile science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) kits for communities around the state; online repository for lessons and activities related to computational thinking; and online and in-person field visits to engage with students and teachers across the state. Collaborators are Robison; Saman Aryana, of the Department of Chemical Engineering; Diana Baumbach, of the Department of Visual and Literary Arts; Diksha Shukla and Banic, of the Department of Computer Science; Mark Bittner, of the Early Care and Education Center; and Margaret Wilson, of the Department of Theatre and Dance.

-- “Cultivating Community Preparedness: Assessing Drought-Risk Perception in Wyoming Communities” -- Working with communities in the state to identify perceptions of risk, change and resilience of drought, and adapt in response to water-related natural hazards and climate change impacts. Collaborators are Mariah Ehmke, Kristi Hansen and Anders Van Sandt, of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics; Ginger Paige, of the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management; Kaatie Cooper and Kristen Landreville, of the Department of Communication and Journalism; Mary Keller, of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies; Jacqueline Shinker, of the Department of Geology and Geophysics; and Corrie Knapp, of the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources.

-- “Supporting Rural Wyoming Futures Through Listening and Collaboration” -- Implementing ways to engage with Wyoming communities, listen to their needs, and help them adapt to economic, environmental and social change. Collaborators are Thomas Grant and Joslyn Cassady, of the Honors College; Abby Perry, UW Extension educator in Rawlins; Kellie Chichester, UW Extension educator in Lusk; and Hudson Hill, UW Extension educator in Afton.

-- “Being Western in America: A Virtual Program Recruiting the World for Wyoming” -- Development of an online course aimed at engaging and recruiting international students to UW by exploring the state’s ecological, cultural, industrial and governmental assets. Collaborators are Caroline McCracken-Flesher, of the Center for Global Studies; and Rob Godby, of the College of Business and the Haub School.

-- “The Pioneer Program: Connecting Skilled Students with Wyoming Entrepreneurs” -- Development of a network connecting Wyoming businesses seeking help with innovative projects with students who have design-thinking mindsets, collaborative approaches to work and proven technological skills. Collaborators are Tyler Kerr, of the College of Engineering and Applied Science; and Alexander.

-- “Wyoming Pathways from Prison” -- Ensuring a permanent learning apparatus among UW and Wyoming Department of Corrections facilities through distance-learning equipment, modest instructor stipends and expenses for in-person instruction. Collaborators are Rob Colter, of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies; Kym Codallos, of the Division of Social Work; Robison; and Daniel Fetsco, of the Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology.

To see further details of the 10 PSIF projects, including project descriptions and team members from across campus, visit www.uwyo.edu/acadaffairs/academics/awards/provost/index.html.

The PSIF program promotes transdisciplinary, cross-college, Wyoming-wide collaborations addressing two themes:

-- “Accelerating Rural Futures and Resilience” -- Helping rural areas survive and thrive by tapping into their economic and cultural potential; leveraging local assets and amenities; and harnessing diverse, entrepreneurial, innovative and multifaceted viewpoints and talents to envision and get to a prosperous future.

-- “Digital, Computation and Data Acceleration” -- Effective and innovative approaches to solving grand challenges of Wyoming and the region using computational and data science, artificial intelligence and big data.

The teams had to demonstrate how they would provide undergraduate and graduate students with a platform for learning how to engage with societal challenges and how to translate knowledge into action. Where appropriate, they also had to demonstrate how they would incorporate deep and sustained two‐way engagement with external communities and organizations, including Wyoming nongovernmental organizations, nonprofits, businesses, governmental entities and international partners.

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