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More than 1,500 Spelman College students have been able to concentrate on the burgeoning field of informatics since the institution received a $2.5 million grant award from the National Science Foundation in 2007 to launch ASPIRE – the Advancing Spelman’s Participation in Informatics Research and Education program.

Allowing the College to be the first HBCU to focus on the science of information, the program has served approximately 400 students via the ASPIRE Peer-Facilitated Learning Program or APFL, an additional 200 students via the Informatics Forum series, and nearly 30 students through research projects and annual conferences.

“One of the goals of ASPIRE is to increase the number of women to pursue graduate study in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, ultimately increasing the number of women who will enter the STEM work force,” said Lily McNair, Ph.D., associate provost of research. Professions for students who study informatics can include anything from biology/chemistry informatics, business technology analysis, and database development to digital library specialist, software developer, information architect, technical writer, usability testing and web designer.ASPIRE students attending 2009 AMHPS conference

To prepare students, ASPIRE concentrates on the development of new interdisciplinary informatics curricula that strengthen computational analytical skills, an effort led by a management team consisting of Spelman President Beverly Daniel Tatum; Provost Johnnella E. Butler; Dr. McNair; Dr. Andrew B. Williams, chair, computer science; Dr. Leyte Winfield, associate professor, organic chemistry; Erica B. Gwyn, ASPIRE program manager; and Loretta H. Moore, senior administrative assistant.

“The strength of the ASPIRE program comes from the collaborative efforts of all STEM faculty, more specifically, the co-principal investigators, Dr. Williams and Dr. Winfield, to identify pedagogical strategies for students and faculty to obtain additional skills in analyzing data for curricular enhancements, research opportunities, and career enhancements in diverse fields such as biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and environmental science,” explains Gwyn.

The majority of students who participate in the program are STEM students, however, according to Dr. McNair, the goal of ASPIRE is to promote interdisciplinary projects within STEM. She would like to see ASPIRE continue after current funding ends in 2012 and the seed award program expanded to support interdisciplinary student/faculty research in informatics.

Shafiqah Faust, a senior math major from Harlem, N.Y., started attending sessions her junior year and says ASPIRE has greatly improved her grades. She credits Ashley Sullivan, C’2009, her APFL, with inspiring her to become an APFL.  Faust will attend Northeastern University’s school of Public Policy in the fall.

To aid in building it’s ASPIRE project, Spelman has partnered with numerous academic institutions and companies that utilize informatics in their respective environments. These institutions and companies include: Fort Valley State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Indiana University, Princeton University, University of Iowa, University of Kansas, University of Tennessee/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of the Virgin Islands, University of Washington, Virginia Tech University, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Coca-Cola Company and Pfizer.  – Lorraine Robertson is an Atlanta-based author, freelance writer, and regular contributor to Inside Spelman.