Fulbright project to launch a new statistics course in Indonesia to provide interdisciplinary training and help students make data-driven decisions in everyday life
Data is an increasingly important facet of today’s interconnected world, but not every country can employ data for the benefit of its communities. A mathematician’s Fulbright Scholar project will create a new course in Indonesia designed to train students to solve local issues with data.
Eric Vance, an associate professor in applied mathematics at the University of Colorado Boulder, is the director of the Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Statistical Analysis (LISA), which trains students in data science through collaborations with researchers, policymakers and business owners.
“Being able to understand and reason with statistics, such as to debunk misinformation, is necessary to be a responsible citizen,” Vance says. “Because so many researchers, policymakers and businesses use data, they need to collaborate with statisticians so they can make good decisions and get the most out of their data.”
Vance has worked on and supervised numerous interdisciplinary projects using data at CU Boulder, such as a data humanities class, a study linking cardiovascular disease and hearing loss and a digital map of precolonial Africa.
But Vance also has worked on a global vision of data analysis and interdisciplinary training through LISA 2020, a network of 35 “stat labs,” or statistics and data science collaboration laboratories that span across Africa, South America and South Asia.
“I saw this model where my students were getting great experience working on real projects, and the researchers and policymakers they were working with benefited tremendously. We were seeing positive impacts for society,” Vance says. “I realized that this was a fantastic model that was not just relevant in the United States, but it was relevant worldwide and especially in developing countries.”
Now, Vance has set his sights on a new stat lab being developed by IPB University in Indonesia, where he plans on living with his family for a year while on sabbatical. His work there is supported by the Fulbright Scholars Program, the U.S. government’s flagship program of international educational and cultural exchange.
“IPB is the premier statistics and data science program in Indonesia,” Vance says. “They were really keen on implementing this vision of a stat lab to both educate their students in real applications of data science and enable research and responsible data-driven decisions in their community.”
Each of the stat labs in the LISA 2020 network are individually run, but they share a core framework that emphasizes interdisciplinary collaboration. With a Fulbright award, Vance intends to study the growth of IPB’s stat lab and share its projects’ outcomes with the world.
“I’m excited to be able to witness and document the birth of a new stat lab,” Vance says. “I’m very curious as to what are the universal aspects of this teaching method and what are the aspects that are dependent on cultural and national contexts.”
Although Vance will not directly lead or teach IPB’s stat lab, he will regularly meet with and advise both faculty and students over the lab’s first year to see how his ideas of teaching collaborative data science will be put into practice.
Students are going to be exposed to a variety of problems and see how statistics and data science are applied in lots of different projects beyond the ones that they are personally involved with. They may work with a biology student one month and then the next be working with a local government official who is trying to best allocate their budget.”
“Students are going to be exposed to a variety of problems and see how statistics and data science are applied in lots of different projects beyond the ones that they are personally involved with,” Vance says. “They may work with a biology student one month and then the next be working with a local government official who is trying to best allocate their budget.”
Through his observation, Vance also hopes to learn new ideas from IPB’s emergent collaborative laboratory.
“By translating what I know from the U.S. into Indonesian culture, I’m going to learn more about what will work in the U.S.,” Vance says.
Vance’s research on IPB’s stat lab will be conducted from September to May 2024, which will likely be submitted to Statistics Education Research Journal.
Along with working to understand the stat lab’s development and the challenges it may face, Vance also looks forward to experiencing life in a new country with his family.
“It will be a challenge to move my whole family to Indonesia for a year,” Vance says. He has a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter with his wife, Marina, an assistant professor in mechanical engineering at CU Boulder, who also was awarded by Fulbright for a project in Indonesia.
“We’ll have to figure out how to navigate living in a new culture, in a new country. And not just be there as travelers, but to set down some roots so that we really feel like we’re part of the community,” Vance says. “Personally, I’m most excited about trying new foods and completely changing my diet.”