Clemson University is paving the way for enhanced understanding of “big data” visualization on campus by involving undergraduate students from around the country through one of its National Science Foundation-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates programs this summer.

Group photograph of the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates Program.

Group photograph of this year’s VizREU program participants.
Image Credit: Vetria Byrd/Clemson University

The program, “REU Site: Undergraduate Research Experience in Collaborative Data Visualization Applications,” is led by Dr. Vetria Byrd of Clemson Computing and Information Technology’s Cyberinfrastructure Technology Integration group and involves 12 students from around the nation to explore the significant role data visualization plays in the exploration and understanding of data across all disciplines.

The program, also referred to as “VisREU,” garnered over 200 applications nationwide for the 12 spots available for this summer’s research experience. This year’s students come from a wide variety of backgrounds – including mathematics, chemistry, engineering, biology, and psychology, and from 10 institutions – including Loras College, Winston-Salem State University, University of Puerto Rico, Winthrop University, Emory University, Trinity Lutheran College (Everett, WA), Jackson State University, and SUNY-Geneseo.

This year, the REU Site is also hosting an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Scholar from Florida State University. Fellows are sponsored by the Clemson University Office of Undergraduate Studies, Clemson Computing and Information Technology, and the Atlantic Coast Conference Interinstitutional Academic Collaborative (ACCAC). The ACCAC fellowship program supports undergraduate student-driven research projects at ACC campuses by selecting outstanding undergraduate researchers from each ACC university each year.

Through the program, the students will work with faculty members to gain insight into the complex relationships that exist within data and to further their understanding of tools and methods within the practice of data visualization. The undergraduate students participating in this year’s program will be paired with a faculty mentor in a wide variety of disciplines – including humanities, education, chemistry, computer science, and beyond. By viewing visualization as a “conduit for collaboration,” Dr. Byrd and her team believe that visualization is one of the many avenues that can lead to interdisciplinary collaboration at Clemson.

“The focus of this REU Site is to give the students the opportunity to have a well-rounded research experience that includes mentoring, professional development, presentation and networking skills. Each student will contribute to their assigned projects by primarily focusing on visualizing data associated with their research project and in doing so enable researchers to move their research forward. Students are actually working to understand the visualization process, not just for themselves, but also for the researcher they are working with,” Byrd said. “By having VisREU students on campus, it gives the faculty an opportunity to understand visualization is a process, and encourages them to think about visualization as a part of the research process,” she added.

This is the second year of the REU program in visualization, and the first year experienced several notable successes. One program alum from the 2014 cohort – Michael Bosch from the University of South Dakota – was selected by The Council on Undergraduate Research REU Symposium to participate in a student poster presentation at the National Science Foundation in Arlington.

“Presenting at the symposium was, in itself, a major part of my REU project. I was surprised to see a lot of people at the symposium were interested in the project and where I would take this project in terms of future research,” he commented.

Students this year plan to build on the successes of their peers who experienced the program previously.

“I hope to gain experience in research and presenting in order to help me with my last 2 years of undergraduate studies as well as future academic endeavors as I continue on to my masters,” said said Shelly Cox, a student from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.

The program is based at Clemson’s campus and will run from June 1 to July 24, 2015. The students’ work will be on display during the project and at its conclusion at citi.clemson.edu/viz/reu, and the Clemson community is invited to the students’ midterm presentations on July 1 and final presentations on July 24.

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This material is based upon work supported by the NSF under Grant No. 1359223. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.