New Mexico State University is among the institutions participating in a three-year National Science Foundation-funded project to promote cyber expertise among research universities, community colleges, minority-serving institutions and other organizations in the Southwest.
The $1.4 million grant per year brings together Texas A&M University, the lead institution, with partners in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The SouthWest Expertise in Expanding, Training, Education and Research (SWEETER) network will provide training and personnel to support and encourage collaboration across separate disciplines at several institutions.
“This project is like Facebook for researchers,” said Diana Dugas, NMSU director of instruction and research support, who also leads the NMSU team on the project. “Research for probably up to two decades has been shifting from being very much ‘what I can do inside of my own lab’ to being able to develop relationships with other researchers to build upon bigger ideas.”
The SWEETER collaboration will leverage its partners’ expertise in computational sciences and large-scale computing to address long-standing bottlenecks that can limit the sharing of resources across institutions. The network also will increase accessibility in data science, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, visualization, cybersecurity and bioinformatics.
“We’re creating a portal for researchers where they can log in and talk about what areas they are researching and what areas they feel comfortable assisting other researchers,” Dugas said. “And through this we might develop a relationship, write a paper together, go in on a grant together or whatever the case happens to be.”
In late February 2020, through a collaboration between SWEETER and "BIGDATA: Collaborative Research: F: Discovering Context-Sensitive Impact in Complex Systems," NMSU sponsored an NSF and artificial intelligence two-day workshop. The first day of the workshop, Andruid Kerne, a program director in Information and Intelligent Systems, presented an NSF programs survey and a workshop on proposal writing, with an open question and answer session. The day also included opportunities and advice for graduate students and postdoctoral students along with a meet-and-greet with NMSU staff, supporting proposal development and research administration. The second day focused on artificial intelligence with Vinitha Subburaj (West Texas A&M University, a SWEETER partner) and Ramyaa Ramyaa (New Mexico Tech) presenting on their research with discussions around potential collaborations.
Partnerships may be formed among universities of varying sizes. There are bigger schools, medium-sized schools and smaller schools and each brings different resources to the table. “The goal with SWEETER is to get faculty from different universities in the region to the research assistance that they need,” Dugas said.
“Because a lot of grants require some education and outreach, that might be easier to do at a smaller school, but the smaller schools may have more difficulty getting research established,” Dugas said. “So, being able to rely on an established researcher in that particular area at a larger university might be beneficial to them. So hopefully it's just going to be a nice relationship for everyone.”
Dugas said bringing people from different disciplines and backgrounds together is even more important now within the new teleworking/teleresearch environment. SWEETER partners are shifting their offerings to an online environment such as the TACC Summer Institutes, which offer immersive training in advanced computation.
The NMSU SWEETER team is currently entertaining various trainings and symposiums that may be of interest to NMSU researchers and the greater New Mexico community.
So far, the group has identified about 30 topics that researchers are interested in supporting or need support to pursue. SWEETER’s funding is mostly going to workshops and outreach and activities, along with an annual meeting. Individual schools will be doing their own activities and those activities are going to be broadcast to the entire network and throughout New Mexico.