2018 Analytics Frontiers Conference Highlighted Charlotte as a Technology Hub

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Data analytics are vital for the success of projects in the Charlotte community ranging from exploring ways to reduce the energy costs of Uptown skyscrapers to finding new ways to offer technology classes to children in low-income neighborhoods. In service to those and similar projects, the College of Computing and Informatics (CCI) at UNC Charlotte offers lucrative opportunities for future generations of students who want to pursue their degree in the growing discipline.

Fatma MiliThese were major takeaways as CCI Dean Fatma Mili led several panelists in a discussion of the ways data analytics are transforming their work at the 2018 Analytics Frontiers Conference, held recently at the Ritz-Carlton in Uptown Charlotte.

The overriding message from the panelists was that well-researched data analytics, such as the work being done at UNC Charlotte, are vital resources for local governments and other private and public groups to tackle complex issues.

Featuring several University representatives, the panel “Computing Research in Data Analytics in an Urban University” included Jeff Michael, director of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. A planner and attorney by training, his professional experience includes extensive work around land use, sustainable development and land conservation issues. Michael explained how the institute has applied data analytics to a number of studies, from a review of the pattern of development growth in the Charlotte region to delving into the underlying reasons why Charlotte ranked at the bottom in economic mobility out of the 50 largest U.S. cities.

University colleagues Douglas Shoemaker, director of research and outreach at the Center for Applied Geographic Information Science, an innovator in the field of land system science; and Wenwen Dou, assistant professor of computer science, and an expert in social media analysis and science impact analysis; and Cynthia Gibas, professor of informatics, and the founder of the North Carolina Urban Microbiome Project; were panelists, too. Others included Amy Aussieker, executive director, Envision Charlotte; Robert Phocas, city manager for Charlotte; and Darlene Heater, executive director, University City Partners (UCP).

Heater talked about how UCP has collaborated with UNC Charlotte researchers to offer summer technology camps at the University City YMCA to provide children in higher poverty neighborhoods with access to tech training.

“There are few opportunities for children in these neighborhoods to go to the University campus for the summer camps,” she said. “So, we are bringing the campus to them at their local YMCA.”

Following Mili’s lead, other panelists discussed projects they have undertaken that relied on the expertise of researchers from UNC Charlotte. For example, Aussieker reported that researchers from the Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC) provided an outside review on a joint project with Duke Energy to explore energy usage in 61 Center City buildings. Plans are underway to expand the study to an additional 200 buildings.

“I sense there is a strong will to work together and use the skills and talents of the people at the University to work to solve some of the urgent problems in our community,” Mili said. “We have heard about some successful partnerships. While some of these are more visible than others, there is great potential for more of them. There are so many successes, but we can do more.”

The conference, now in its fourth year, is an outgrowth — and a microcosm — of UNC Charlotte’s Data Science Initiative (DSI), a multidisciplinary industry-university-state partnership led by the College of Computing and Informatics (CCI), Belk College of Business, College of Health and Human Services and College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. With support from leading corporations and institutions, including title sponsor Bank of America, the conference attracted more than 500 registrants.

Charlotte Chamber of Commerce President Bob Morgan led “Data Analytics and IT: Advancing the Charlotte Region,” a public policy discussion featuring Charlotte City Council member Tariq Bokhari and North Carolina Rep. Jason Saine. They addressed the topic of how data analytics and IT can advance the Charlotte region as a technology hub. Saine emphasized that Charlotte and the surrounding region offers many attributes, including a growing number of technology experts.

“The expertise base is growing in the Charlotte region,” he said. “We really do have the talent, maybe not enough right now for Amazon, but for other (companies) that will be coming to Charlotte.”

Morgan said a lot of that expertise resides at UNC Charlotte. “From an economic developer’s point of view, we really appreciate the great things being done at UNC Charlotte,” he said.

Bokhari noted the Charlotte region recently was ranked the top relocation destination for millennials in the United States, foreseeing a promising future for the city.