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ECU announces collaboration with SAS to boost research

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Cecil Staton

Jay Golden
Emily Baranello

The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Cary-based data analytics giant SAS will join an effort by East Carolina University to address economic, educational and health disparities in rural America, ECU announced on Tuesday.

Using analytics and data visualization, ECU and SAS will work together to support ECU’s recently launched Rural Prosperity Initiative as well as efforts to rapidly grow the university’s research enterprise, a news release said.

SAS will help ECU develop a new generation of technologies, microbusinesses and strategies to boost quality of life in rural North Carolina, the release said. In addition, professors, students and researchers will be able to access and apply advanced SAS analytics, business intelligence and data management software toward that goal.

“Working with SAS is just the kind of public-private relationship that we feel is the next step toward greatly expanding ECU’s research enterprise,” Chancellor Cecil Staton said in the release. “This collaboration in particular will provide critical resources and expertise to tackle the challenges in eastern North Carolina and, indeed, much of rural America. We hope this is just the start of a long, successful relationship.”

As part the initiative, ECU in September began work to establish a big data and analytics research cluster  — one of eight research clusters intended to enlist faculty and researchers from across the university to focus university resources on combating health problems, fostering new economic opportunities and helping ECU and area K-12 schools produce more talent for today’s workforce.

A new facility will house the cluster on ECU’s future Millennial Campus so government and community leaders can work with ECU researchers to visualize and analyze big data in innovative ways, including virtual reality, in order to make more effective decisions, the news release said.

“Big data” refers to data sets with sizes beyond the ability of commonly used software tools to capture, curate, manage and process within a reasonable time. It can be unstructured, semi-structured and structured data; however, the main focus is on unstructured data. As such, it requires techniques and technologies with new forms of integration to reveal insights and make the information useful.

“In order to make the most effective decisions and investments to drive the economy and improve the quality of life in rural and coastal communities, ECU researchers must have access to insights that only big data and analytics can provide,” said Jay Golden, ECU vice chancellor for research, economic development and engagement. “SAS Analytics will help our ECU faculty and students discover the ‘why’ behind the data by uncovering hidden relationships and trends.

“Using predictive analytics and forecasting tools, ECU researchers and our community partners will be able to dig deeper into ‘what if’ and ‘what next’ scenarios – a capability lacking in the past,” Golden said. “We are very appreciative of SAS’ generous support of ECU’s mission and look forward to further enhancing our partnership.”

SAS also will provide teaching materials and on-site training for faculty and staff and help develop analytical programs. Researchers and students will be able to integrate SAS software into their research and engagement activities, giving students hands-on experience with this highly marketable skill.

“This is an opportunity for SAS to support a university initiative that benefits the people of our home state,” said Emily Baranello, vice president of the SAS Education Practice. “ECU’s research, powered by the data and analytics at the heart of innovation today, could transform the lives and futures of rural North Carolinians.”