By Robin Brooks
David Beck, eScience senior data science fellow, director of research and life sciences, and research assistant professor in chemical engineering, has been promoted to associate director of the Data Intensive Research Enabling Clean Technologies (DIRECT) program. DIRECT, a UW Clean Energy Institute graduate training program in data-enabled discovery and design of advanced materials for clean energy, is funded by the National Science Foundation Research Traineeship Program.
Launched in the summer of 2016, Beck was crucial to helping the program take off, developing the curriculum and encouraging cross-departmental collaboration. “He’s super-creative when it comes to dissemination of methods and doing that to scale, across many disciplines. He’s very student-centic,” said Jim Pfaendtner, associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, who made the appointment.
Pfaendtner also said Beck’s “research credentials are amazing … he’s well-known for applying data science across disciplines. He has a commitment to diversity, equity and access.”
The DIRECT program is helping to create a data science toolkit that crosses multiple departments. Students take data science classes and participate in a capstone project, which matches students with employers to give them real-world experience beyond the classroom. In one example provided by Pfaedtner, students who didn’t have a background in data science in January are now working with Optimum Energy, where they are doing impactful work as a result of their training.
Providing these types of opportunities to students as well as offering resources for faculty members are two benefits of the program, which is expanding from 30 to 50 students in the upcoming year. Beck’s goal is to increase the number of departments that offer data science options, which dovetails with Pfaedtner’s goals to increase the number of students and faculty participating in the program to bring awareness to the importance of data science.
Said Beck of his new appointment, “When you really love to do something, you make time for it. This [appointment] really formalizes the relationship. A lot of this work is really complementary to my role at the eScience Institute … the missions are really well-aligned.”