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UWF mathematics professor, students complete research for EPA TRI University Challenge

University of West Florida | news@uwf.edu

Dr. Raid Amin, professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of West Florida, led graduate students in a study of environmental data as one of six researchers nationwide selected for the Environmental Protection Agency Toxics Release Inventory University Challenge for the 2016-17 academic year.

According to the EPA, the TRI University Challenge aims to increase awareness of the TRI Program and data within academic communities; expose students to TRI data, tools and analysis; and generate innovative programs, activities, recommendations or research that improve the accessibility, awareness and use of TRI data.

“This was a great opportunity for our graduate students, both on campus and online, to get their hands dirty with real data sets,” said Dr. Jaromy Kuhl, professor and chair of the UWF Department of Mathematics and Statistics. “The students did a great job cleaning and analyzing the data, and now they have invaluable experience that lends itself well to a career in data analytics. It was also a great opportunity for UWF and the Department of Mathematics and Statistics to partner with EPA.”

Upon acceptance of a research proposal and application from UWF to the EPA, Amin and 11 graduate students in his statistics research course began to study TRI data during Fall 2016 and Spring 2017. Amin said the work focused largely on identifying geographic clusters of air pollution as well as a process for connecting the environmental data to health data, such as disease rates.

“As the demand for data analysis increases in both government and private industry, college math and statistics departments in the U.S. have intensified the focus on research skills in recent years,” Amin said. “To do that and engage students in a meaningful way, you need exciting projects and access to large amounts of trustworthy data. Programs like the EPA TRI University Challenge provide an excellent opportunity for practical application of what our students are learning at UWF.”

Amin said the 11 students, one participating on campus and 10 enrolled online, learned to conduct research as a group during the fall semester before undertaking individual research projects in the spring. At the conclusion of their group work, an EPA representative requested permission to share the report the students produced at the EPA. Amin said it was motivating for the students to see their work used by the federal government.

Although the EPA does not provide funding to researchers for the TRI University Challenge, it connects researchers and students with EPA data experts and affords students a chance to gain experience and it provides UWF positive exposure. EPA presented each student a certificate for participation.

Amin said that several recent graduates of the master’s program now work for Navy Federal in Pensacola and the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington, D.C.

A previous year’s research class exposed mathematics and statistics students to data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. They used research to track registered sex offenders and predators in Florida. Another year, the class researched the construction of a quality of life index for all U.S. counties.

“Even at a regional university, you realize we can impact meaningful projects not only in the local community, but throughout the U.S.,” Amin said.

For more information about the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, visit uwf.edu.

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