How we came to be

The Story Behind Its Creation and BIG Data

Advanced Data Analysis and Data Visualization are the tools needed now. Headlines convey the urgency of the situation, with a flood of new data being generated every second. The need to do more than simply “swim” in this rising “sea” of data has become critical. The goal of UALR’s George W. Donaghey Foundation Emerging Analytics Center™ is not just to “swim” in data, but to “emerge” from it with data-based solutions for literally all fields of endeavor. Its economic development mission is to provide VISIONARY DATA SOLUTIONS FOR ARKANSAS.

The George W. Donaghey Foundation, along with UALR’s leadership, recognizes that what is now called “BIG Data” is truly the next frontier in discovery, business and society as more data is produced, stored and analyzed. New U.S. Federal research programs from the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are aimed at making sense of the increasing flood of data. A second economy is taking shape all in digital formats and the related economic development opportunities for Arkansas must be identified and maximized.

From an historical perspective, UALR’s original Virtual Reality Center (VRC) was operational in 2001, providing one of the first 3D data visualization centers of its kind on a university campus.  Much has rapidly changed in the realm of data analytics and data visualization since then, and the changes continue at even a faster pace.

UALR’s Donaghey College of Engineering & Information Technology (EIT) has, for over a decade, expanded UALR’s faculty expertise and resources to focus on all facets of the growth in data.  EIT examples include the creation of the nation’s first academic program in the new field of “Information Quality,” in partnership with MIT.  Other UALR colleges have also moved to adapt to the “digital demands” required by their students and graduates.

Last year, it became apparent that the original UALR Virtual Reality Center was nearing the limits of its hardware and personnel capabilities in terms of providing access to large data sets, while piloting expertise in the field of data visualization and virtual reality.  It has been used to support federally funded projects, local industry, as well as a tool for teaching and recruiting students for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields — but UALR’s leadership saw a “game changing” opportunity to leverage its unique leadership in this area and the burgeoning need to jump ahead in the important field of data analytics and data visualization.  The joint opportunity to develop the “next generation” of data visualization hardware was also presented to UALR by the Mechdyne Corporation, a recognized leader in data visualization technologies.  Visionary concepts were developed for advanced hardware and software, along with specifically dedicated faculty and staff with management/administrative oversight.

The George W. Donaghey Foundation Made the EAC Possible

Through a generous grant of over $5 million from the George W. Donaghey Foundation, the “game changing opportunity” has now become a reality.  UALR’s new George W. Donaghey Emerging Analytics Center™ (EAC) features “first of its kind in the world” data visualization equipment and a unique, campus-wide cross discipline approach to cutting-edge data analytics and data visualization.  Key components of the EAC are its “first ever” EmergiFLEX™ and MobileFLEX™ data visualization equipment specially developed for the EAC, in partnership with the Mechdyne Corporation.  Additional partnerships with HP (the Hewlett-Packard Company) and Today’s Office have provided other unique assets to the EAC.

The EAC is led by UALR Chancellor Dr. Joel E. Anderson and its EAC Management Board is chaired by Dr. Mary L. Good, UALR’s Special Advisor to the Chancellor for Economic Development.  In addition to the investment in equipment, additional personnel are now dedicated to the new Big Data challenge.  The new facility is an official administrative unit at UALR, recognized by the Arkansas Department of Education.  It is staffed by the EAC’s Chief Data Scientist, Dr. Yassine Belkhouche; Technical Director Dr. Edi Tudoreanu; Operations Director Joe Swaty; Mechdyne onsite staff member Jason Keeny; and specially-selected UALR graduate students.

The EAC’s over-arching mission of providing VISIONARY DATA SOLUTIONS FOR ARKANSAS includes its role to:

  • Foster cutting-edge research in data-intensive and experience-based areas across the UALR campus, with an emphasis on three colleges: Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology (EIT), College of Business (COB), and College of Science (COS)
  • Create a competitive, nationally recognized new center for research and co-development focused on using advanced data analytics and data visualization to accelerate Arkansas’ economic future by providing remarkable value-added services to broad community engagement: enhance economic development and UALR’s leadership role
  •  Provide services for activities in the medical community, particularly UAMS
  • Build on the proven expertise and resources of the Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology, which include Computational Research (HPC) and Virtual Reality (VRC) Centers, with a bold, campus-wide, community-wide, and state-wide approach
  • Enhance UALR’s reputation by providing increased graduate student enrollment and income
  • Recruit and retain top faculty and graduate students

The EAC is intended to have a strong service component.  The original UALR Virtual Reality Center will be renamed the Virtual Reality Lab and serve two functions that complement the new Emerging Analytics Center™ — Providing a staging and development platform for advanced data visualization solutions without tying up the resources of the new EAC, and provide a testing platform for other data visualization development tasks, including student-related activities.

Mission and Role for the EAC

The mission of the UALR Emerging Analytics Center™ is to facilitate Data Visualization and Virtual Reality research at UALR, and beyond, by providing computing and personnel infrastructure necessary for faculty, students, and the local community to excel in their competitive research and development endeavors. The EAC will provide the infrastructure needed to accomplish this mission.

In particular, the role of the EAC to provide VISIONARY DATA SOLUTIONS FOR ARKANSAS includes:

  • Acquisition of hardware and software resources to accommodate current and future data visualization and visual analytics requirements;
  • Installation and configuration of computing and visualization resources,
  • Management of the use of computing and visualization resources,
  • Assisting users in migrating data and analyzing data in the visualization center,
  • Channeling the existing expertise and infrastructure of EIT’s original Virtual Reality Center and the UALR Computational Research Center