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Data Science Institute for Societal Challenges Names Two Associate Research Directors

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November 16, 2020

Data Science Institute for Societal Challenges Names Two Associate Research Directors

Jennifer Koch

NORMAN, OKLA. – Jennifer Koch, an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, and Erin Maher, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology, have been named associate research directors of the University of Oklahoma Data Science Institute for Societal Challenges.

Founded in July 2020, the institute is designed to integrate data science expertise across the university and harness data science innovation to solve real-world problems.

“As part of the university’s strategic plan, DISC will build and expand on the research excellence in data science already in place at the university to bring the power of methods such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, visual analytics, and other emerging tools of the digital era to important problems with high social impact,” said DISC director and OU associate vice president for research and partnerships David Ebert.

“The expertise, experience of working on convergent research across campuses, and enthusiasm for data science and data-enabled science of both Jennifer and Erin will enable DISC to be more impactful and successful,” he added. “We are excited to have them join our team and help shape and lead DISC.”

Koch’s research and teaching interests are in geographic information systems, dynamic modeling of socio-environmental systems, and land systems science using transdisciplinary approaches and integration of qualitative and quantitative data. Koch received a degree in geoecology from the University of Bayreuth, Germany and her doctorate in environmental systems engineering from the University of Kassel, Germany, where she was a doctoral student and later a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Environmental Systems Research. She is also a faculty affiliate with the South-Central Climate Adaptation Science Center.

“I truly believe in the importance of transdisciplinary research and the inclusion of different views and perspectives to develop solutions to societal challenges,” Koch said. “As part of DISC, I aim to reach out to and connect with people who traditionally do not consider data-enabled research as part of their toolset.”

Erin Maher

Maher’s research focuses on the intersection of poverty and child maltreatment, as well as child and family well-being. She conducts program evaluations of social programs in partnership with government agencies and interdisciplinary researchers. Prior to coming to OU, she served as the director of program evaluation at Casey Family Programs, conducting large-scale evaluations for public child welfare agencies. She is a core faculty affiliate in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, a faculty affiliate of the Center for Applied Social Research, and co-director of Field Research and Evaluation at the newly established Center on ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and Resiliency.

“I believe that complex and seemingly intractable social problems need all hands on deck to develop effective and equitable solutions,” Maher said. “Data-enabled research is one powerful tool, which in combination with industry, university, philanthropy and government partnerships, can be employed for this purpose. I love bridging ideas, people, research and practice and bring this experience with me to DISC.”