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UA Little Rock doctoral student recognized for innovative contributions

Karen Watts DiCicco, a doctoral student in computer and information science from Bryant, recently won an Award for Innovation at the National Extension Technology Community (NETC) 2020 Conference. 

DiCicco works as the first digital and IT innovation manager at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, where she is responsible for implementing new and emerging technologies at the Division of Agriculture.

“Innovation is important because that is where the future is,” DiCicco said. “My job is to find new innovative technologies and incorporate these technologies in agricultural applications that help Division employees and Arkansans. This includes blockchain, AI, and machine learning. We always joke that my job is a hackathon every day because every day I am working on something different.”

The NETC Award for Innovation honors the innovative use of technology integrated into the delivery of educational programs or in the administrative systems that support educational programs. DiCicco received the award for several projects, including developing a partnership with AgAnalytics to gather precision farming data, creating the first hackathon for students at the Division of Agriculture, and developing chatbots for the Division of Agriculture website that answers gardening and financial education questions.

“Karen’s ability to include the latest innovations in technology helps to bring recognition and funding to our organization during a time when we need it the most,” said Amy Cole, digital media program manager at the Division of Agriculture. “Her knowledge of blockchain technology has put extension at the forefront of innovative ag programming. She has developed a strategy whereby extension can help with food traceability, crop storage, and delivery, and even absentee voting using blockchain.”

As a graduate student at UA Little Rock, DiCicco worked extensively on blockchain research. Her thesis looked at how local food producers can use blockchain technology to safely and securely store and share data.

She also researches agriculture misinformation and how blockchain technology can be used to address misinformation with the Collaboratorium of Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies (COSMOS) at UA Little Rock. She and Dr. Nitin Agarwal, Maulden-Entergy Endowed Chair and distinguished professor in the Department of Information Science, and published a book chapter this year entitled, “Blockchain Technology-based Solutions to fight Misinformation: A Survey.” 

At UA Little Rock, DiCicco received the Outstanding MS Graduate Award from the Department of Information Science and the Outstanding Master’s Degree Award from the College of Engineering and Information Technology.

She received the awards for her successes in competing in hackathons, earning a 4.0 GPA, mentoring three capstone teams in the Department of Information Science, and her research being published in a book chapter.

DiCicco also received the Brett Barham Extension Innovation Award from the Arkansas Association of Cooperative Extensive Specialists. The award was created in honor of Dr. Brett Barham, an associate professor of animal science who was a leader in introducing innovative technologies that delivered timely information specializing in beef cattle breeding and genetics to cattle producers. 

With the help of cattle specialists, DiCicco developed the GoGreen cattle tag tracking system, which allows county agents to create and track individual cattle tags for animals entered into the GoGreen program by cattle producers.

“Innovation is important in agriculture to develop new technologies to be on the cutting edge,” DiCicco said. “My position allows me to identify these innovative emerging technologies and implement these technologies in agricultural applications.”