National Science Foundation Grant

National Science Foundation Grant

Engaging Rural Students in Advancement Opportunities through the Field of Data Analytics

The goal of the National Science Foundation grant is to create a pipeline of highly-skilled and engaged Data Analytics Technicians to meet current and future employment needs in the College's service area and beyond. The College serves a six-county service area that is predominately rural and low income. One county has a 15% Hispanic population.


* Collaborating with the Arkansas Center for Data Science and Spartanburg Community College

Recruitment and Marketing

Alpena College and Career Fair

Feb. 15, 2023

Representing North Arkansas College FBLA: Janet McMurrin (faculty), Melanie King (faculty), Pollyanna Montgomery (student)

Sixty-four students signed up for the T-shirt giveaway, and students came by the table almost non-stop for about 1.5 hours. Representatives handed out Northark stickers, information about concurrent classes, booklets with the programs listed, scholarship information, flyers on the new Center for Robotics and Manufacturing, postcards for students wanting to enroll, and a flyer about the new data analytics grant/degree.

One student commented he was very interested in the data analytics degree, and a few others expressed some interest. Northark student Pollyanna Montgomery also said she was interested in the new data analytics degree and took a flyer. The group gave out nine flyers on the data analytics grant/degree.

Several students were interested in concurrent classes. One mentioned being interested in psychology classes, and another student wanted to take gen ed classes at Northark for transfer. One student was extremely interested in our soccer program (“100% interested”).

Alpena College Fair

Co-PI and Northark Instructor Melanie King and student Pollyanna Montgomery

Alpena College and Career Fair


North Arkansas College serves some of the poorest counties in one of the poorest states in the nation. Recruiting, training, and retaining skilled technical workers in data science and computing is such a crucial piece of Arkansas’ economic development that Governor Hutchinson commissioned a Blue Ribbon panel in 2017 to make recommendations on advancing data analytics and computing in Arkansas. The governor’s specific charge – to respond to the need of employers, to create opportunities that will keep the “best and the brightest” in Arkansas, and to increase the data analytics capabilities within the state – led to the establishment of the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences (ACDS), an economic development non-profit that is identifying and addressing challenges, including talent recruitment and retention, to fill technology-related jobs (ACDS, 2019). Arkansas was the first state to require every high school to offer high-quality computer science courses and, starting in fall 2021, implemented a new Data Science Pathway with the intent of increasing the number of students who choose to major in datas cience after high school (Owen, 2021).  


During a meeting with the project team in June 2021, representatives from five regional employers enthusiastically confirmed their need for trained data analytics technicians and used the BILT modified DACUM process to prioritize the skills most needed for this new role. Members of this initial BILT (Business and Industry Leadership Team) will be joined by other regional employers to co-lead the new program. This two-year technical program will provide work-ready skills and employment, while also providing a head start for those who may eventually choose to continue their education.

Area residents can already start at Northark to take preparatory courses that will lead into a bachelor’s program in data science; however, waiting four years or more and paying for a university bachelor’s degree is not a realistic option for many service-area residents who urgently need a well-paying career. In fact, “data analytics technicians” are often the preferred roles by employers either (1) as part of a larger data science team or (2) as an effective and affordable alternative to a high-salaried data scientist. 

BILT member Darren Taff, Business Intelligence Manager at a multistate computer science consulting firm, explained that “the cost of hiring [data scientists with higher degrees] is a huge barrier for small and even medium sized businesses” (D. Taff, personal communication, June 10, 2021). The president and general manager of NATCO, a regional telecom company and BILT employer, stated that “we have a very prominent need for students completing this type of program” (S. Sanders, personal communication, June 9, 2021). 

An internship componentof this new AAS program will help prepare students to launch upon entering the workforce immediately after graduation. Intertwined with employers’ immediate needs and the need to drive economic growth in the state is the dire need to provide a way out of poverty for rural Arkansans. According to Berger & Fisher (2013), states can strengthen their economies by increasing the number of well-educated workers, and the “increased supply can actually help create its own demand.” This is echoed by a statement from the Arkansas Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission report (2017) that data analytics and computing is not merely about an emerging new industry of the future, but goes to the basic question of whether Arkansas’ existing industries will stay competitive and be able to generate the high-quality jobs needed to advance the state’s per capita income and standard of living for Arkansans.  

Important Info

National Science Foundation logoObjectives
  • Expand BILT to co-lead program development
  • Create Data Analytics AAS degree
  • Provide professional development
  • Recruit, retain and graduate students with focus on diversity

  • Expand and Enhance BILT
  • Develop New Courses
  • Focus on Training and Recruiting Plans
  • Identify Real-world Data and Case studies
  • Offer a Career Development Certificate of Achievement
  • Create Paired Courses and Assignments

Degree Plans

To learn more about ATE, please visit the National Science Foundation ATE program website.

Contact Info

Cheryl Keymer

Janet McMurrin

Laura Berry

Melanie King
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