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iSchool students test new CI Facilitator curriculum

January 07, 2009

Margaret Spillett
(315) 443-1069

Margaret Spillett

Syracuse University's School of Information Studies (iSchool) has selected its first cohort of students in a program designed to educate a new breed of information professional for the scientific and engineering communities.

CIFEach of the five iSchool master's students completed an undergraduate degree in the sciences, and each is now undertaking a series of courses and pre-professional activities to become a cyberinfrastructure facilitator (CI facilitator). These new information professionals will possess the skills to discover and serve the information needs of scientific researchers.

The first cohort comprises:

  • Ashley Christopher '08, G'10-a graduate student in information management who holds a B.S. in biology from SU;
  • Amanda Mitchell G'10-a graduate student in library and information science who holds a bachelor's degree in biology and English from Colgate University;
  • Heidi Webb G'10-a graduate student in library and information science who holds a bachelor's degree in environmental science from Wells College;
  • Nick Weber G'10-a graduate student in information management who holds a B.S. in comprehensive sciences and honors from Villanova University; and
  • Clyde White '08, G'10-a graduate student in information management who holds a B.S. degree in information management and technology from the iSchool at Syracuse.

These students play an integral role in the iSchool's two-year, $244,000 grant "CI- Facilitators: Information Architects across the STEM Disciplines" from the National Science Foundation's Office of Cyberinfrastructure. Cyberinfrastructure refers to solutions for connecting people, data and technology in ways that facilitate discovery of valuable knowledge. The cyberinfrastructure facilitator forges links between researchers and information tools in order to manage, organize, mine and process the immense amounts of scientific data that are continuously generated in the research process.

The NSF project is headed by Associate Dean for Research Jeff Stanton, Dean Elizabeth D. Liddy and professors Derrick L. Cogburn, Paul Gandel, R. David Lankes and Megan Oakleaf.

The students testing the new curriculum receive tuition support and have the opportunity to contribute to the development of a new profession in the information field.

Some of the students began their studies by enrolling in a new course this fall, Cogburn's "Distributed Collaboration and Emerging Technologies" (IST 500). The course covered the rapidly expanding practice of geographically distributed collaboration in environments such as virtual organizations, communities and teams, and the social practices and technology infrastructure that support this new form of organization.

"The course allowed me to compare and contrast the challenges and opportunities for collaboration in the international, private and governmental sectors, as student teams worked with groups from these various sectors," says White. "In addition to the material, lecture, readings and laboratory work, creating and implementing a collaboration plan for an actual organization was an invaluable experiential learning opportunity."

This spring, the students will enroll in IST 600, "Scientific Data Management," a course developed as part of the NSF-funded Science Data Literacy project. This course, taught by John D'Ignazio, will cover the fundamentals about scientific data, data management with case studies, and the use of scientific data with tools.

"I have always been interested in science, but never in developing my own research experiments," says library student Webb. "The CI Facilitator project will allow me to combine that interest in science along with my growing interest in information management and better prepare myself for the changing nature of librarianship in the sciences."

Weber also found the combination of information management and science appealing. "I have a strong interest in science and technology, but I also know I don't want to do lab or bench science myself," Weber says. "I hoped to have an effect on something bigger and broader, and to facilitate scientific endeavors using some of my more social and humanistic educational background."

Christopher hopes that this unique opportunity will put her on the fast-track for a career in the biotech industry, and Mitchell believes the combination of technology, science and library courses will set her apart from peers in her attempt to become a science librarian.

"The CI Facilitator project is a fascinating opportunity to combine my science background with my passion for helping people with their information needs," Mitchell says. "My double major explains my attraction to library science: I couldn't decide between English and bio, and there were a couple of other areas I would have liked to minor in, too. It seemed to me that by becoming a librarian, I could-and would have to-stay knowledgeable about a lot of different fields, which is what I've always enjoyed."

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