2019–20 Grant Opportunities

Have a great idea? We fund those.

The Jefferson Trust is excited to announce two funding opportunities for the 2019–20 academic year. In addition to our long-standing annual cycle, Flash Funds will return in the spring semester.

We will be holding information sessions this fall! Please join us:

  • Tuesday, 9/3, 5:00 p.m.—Clemmons Library
  • Thursday, 9/5, 3:30 p.m.—Manning Pavilion, Alumni Hall
  • Sunday, 9/8, 12:00 p.m.—Clemmons Library
  • Thursday, 9/12, 3:00 p.m.—Clemmons Library
  • Monday, 9/16, 5:30 p.m.—Clemmons Library
  • Thursday, 9/19, 3:00 p.m.—Clemmons Library
  • Monday, 9/23, 5:30 p.m.—Clemmons Library
  • Thursday, 9/26, 3:00 p.m.—Clemmons Library

The 2019–20 annual cycle proposal form is available now. To get started, review our grant guidelines, tips, and FAQ’s, then log in to the proposal system.

Flash funds will be available starting in January 2020. Look for the forms to go live in December.

The Growth of Big Data

Phil Bourne, director of the UVA Data Science Institute

In 2013 “Big Data” at UVA included a $100,000 Jefferson Trust grant that helped:

  • support the creation of fellowship opportunities for graduate students from different departments to work together on important problems requiring data science for their solution
  • provide opportunities for cross disciplinary collaborations
  • provide greater visibility to the innovative and important data science work occurring at UVA

“In 2012 there were no pan-university institutes, and not as many interdisciplinary collaborations happening. The idea to put graduate students at the center of this was key because we intended to “use” them as gluons of sorts that would also facilitate exchanges and collaboration between their faculty advisors/mentors, and undergraduates working on the project” shares Phil Trella, Director of the Office of Graduate & Postdoctoral Affairs, and co-signer on the original grant.

Fast forward to spring 2019, and the University announced that the School of Data Science will be the institution’s next school. This is something neither Trella nor Don Brown, Founding Director of the Data Science Institute (DSI), ever envisioned in the early days of “big data”. “We did hope to grow DSI to be “the” major research institute at UVA” Brown admitted. Trella believes “…a lot has happened (quickly!) with convergence toward common methodologies, practices, philosophy, etc. that has moved data science from a loose set of tools and problems toward a new and burgeoning discipline.” Both Trella and Brown, along with Phil Bourne, current Director of the Data Science Institute, attribute DSI’s success to positively fostering collaborations between disciplines, support from senior leadership at UVA, and collaboration of faculty members in schools across the University. “A vision of a School without walls which supports interdisciplinary research and education at a time of extreme demand for data science expertise across all sectors” shares Bourne.

“The Jefferson Trust’s early investment in novel (high risk!) research I think allowed us to demonstrate that data science really touches upon all fields.  We’ve had fellows in our program now from virtually every school and across divisions including humanities, life sciences, social sciences, etc. It was a challenge at first getting students to think of data science as something that could not just inform, but be integrated into, their work but these days we have far less convincing and explaining to do on that front” explains Trella. Bourne says that the Trust’s recent grant to the Data Science Institute to support collaboration with the local community is a further example of support which cross-cuts both UVA’s mission at large and that of the School of Data Science.

As the School of Data Science looks to the future, Bourne admits the difficult part will be deciding what not to do at a time of enormous demand. “We will share a strategic plan which addresses this challenge with clear goals and deliverables over the next 5 years.” Brown also shares some challenges will include hiring world class faculty to create the research and educational programs that will make us international leaders, creating new Ph.D. and undergraduate programs that will enable us to educate the next generation of leaders in data science, addressing and prioritizing new and emerging research challenges in data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence and their applications, and responding to the needs of UVA, Virginia, and our local community for data science services.

A Virtual Exploration of Grounds

Example of an interactive map showing the Academical Village

When Guoping Huang, Assistant Professor and Graduate Program Director of Urban & Environmental Planning, received funding for a Jefferson Trust grant in 2018, his plan for his project, “A Virtual Exploration of Central Grounds Through Time and Space” was to digitize and geo-reference various existing data collections such as building footprints, trails, vegetation, historic photos, and notable persons and trees. Using the latest Geographic Information Systems (GIS), digital visualization, and Virtual Reality (VR), he wanted to present the data collections online as 2D and 3D maps with a time slider, so any user could explore the history of UVA’s central grounds through time and space. The grant allowed Huang to hire students to complete challenging geo-referencing and digitization tasks, while giving student assistants opportunities to learn some of the latest technologies and techniques from Huang himself, fostering a collaborative environment.

Over a year into the project, his team’s biggest success has been the bringing together of large collections of historic photos, maps, documents, GIS data sets, and 3D models into one spatial database. “Originally, these collections are scattered around in different offices and archives in the University. But now, you can query these collections by time and space in our new centralized system.” Huang shares.

After the team started to assemble pieces of historic evidences, they noticed many gaps in their research. “…we know there used to be a winter gymnasium standing right in the middle of the south end of the Lawn from 1858 to 1893, but its three-dimensional shape has not been documented. We have to dig into the Proctor’s Papers for the expenses in order to determine if it had a tin roof, or if had a stepped roof with clerestory lights at each level. The detail of the payments might give us a clue when we make 3D model of the gymnasium.” Due to these gaps, Huang and team feel that we still have much to learn about the history of the University.

View of the interactive map that identifies the trees around the Academical Village, including the Pratt Ginkgo

Huang is excited for the future, and the possibilities that users could experience in a virtual reality environment. “Imagine you visit Central Grounds for the first time in the future and you could load a web map onto your cellphone. As you walk around, the web map would not only tell you the history of the buildings and gardens you see, but also show you what this place used to look like. You could see historic photos taken at the same place where you’re standing, facing the same direction. If you want, you could also put your cellphone in a Google Cardboard to see the history unfold in an immersive Virtual Reality environment!” This funding has allowed the group to build something that can be used by teachers, students, and visitors in the years to come. Huang admits, “If the project turns out to be successful, some additional funding might allow us to extend the scope to more historic places that our alumni and visitors want to see!”

Developing Tools to Transform Student Experiences

Screenshot of a web-based teaching observation tool to document what actually happens in college classrooms at UVA

How do today’s professors teach? This is a question a 2019 grant recipient group is trying to evaluate and answer. Karen Inkelas, with colleagues Lindsay Wheeler, Michael Redwine, and Alison Levine are “Developing Tools to Transform Student Experiences”—creating a web-based teaching observation tool to document what actually happens in college classrooms at UVA. These observations will not only shed light on how faculty teach, but also use the data to work with instructors and the broader university to improve teaching at UVA.  The program was created in response to numerous calls to improve college teaching. Says Michael Redwine, “It seemed somewhat presumptuous to tell professors that they need to change how they teach when we don’t really know how they actually teach. So, we set out to create a classroom teaching observation online tool to document what actually happens in college classrooms at UVA.”

After receiving small start-up research funds from the Curry School of Education and the 3 Cavaliers Fund, Inkelas and her team knew they needed a larger set of funds. “The Jefferson Trust was the ideal source, because we knew that the [Trust] was keenly interested in projects designed to enhance and improve the UVA student experience, and what could be more central to that mission than better understanding and improving teaching!” she shared. They are planning to use Jefferson Trust funding for hiring a large number of undergraduates to help build the observation tools (computer science majors) and to test and refine it in classrooms. Funding will also help with the expenses of the required large server data space needed for collecting and storing the observation data.

The team plans to build a broad suite of digital tools to integrate with the observation tool, so that they can understand how teaching and instruction relate to students’ performance, students’ course evaluations and involvement, and faculty use of technology. Observation tools will document classroom teaching and learning, visualization tools transform the observation data into visual graphics, and analysis tools will use the observation data for research purposes. The Center for Teaching Excellence also plans to use the suite of tools as part of their teaching consultation program for research initiatives. Inkelas conveys “We truly are excited to see all of the ways we can use the teaching observation data to improve both instruction and the student experience.”