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From 0-2: Engaging Innovation

February 28, 2017

Second year PhD student Chelsea L Cervantes De Blois has a rich background in research-related field work both domestically and abroad. She speaks multiple languages and has worked in several different countries, including Azerbaijan in 2014-2015 as a Fulbright recipient, followed by stints in Serbia and Kyrgyzstan as an agricultural consultant. De Blois has also worked intensively on climate change projects with the US Department of State and the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a global agricultural research partnership. This diverse background helped De Blois earn a prestigious fellowship and role in a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project on crowd sourcing innovation.

The NSF project, entitled "From 0-2: Engaging Innovation," began with a series of workshops led by Associate Vice President for Research Claudia Neuhauser. The project was proposed as a conceptual framework to find the optimal solution to societal problems under societal, engineering, and scientific constraints through innovation. In other words, students look to find novel ideas (going from 0-1) that are implementable within societal constraints (going from 1-2).

Professor Neuhauser sought interdisciplinary viewpoints for the project and selected participants from varying academic, social, and professional backgrounds. Together they are working to build a prototype for an online crowd sourcing innovation platform that will help scientists transcend disciplinary and institutional boundaries in order to develop transformative research ideas and questions.

Participants met eight times throughout the fall semester. The project group was split into two teams, one looking at human trafficking systems and the other looking at food systems. The groups worked to create unbiased questions around those two topics that a computer would be able to categorize. De Blois's team was responsible for figuring out what types of questions non-academics and non-researchers may have regarding food and water systems.

"We were considered the 'laymen' because we came from diverse backgrounds. There was a variety of ages, genders, nationalities, and non-students involved on the project," Chelsea says. "Our task was to think of context and questions that a computer could more accurately respond to in order to provide precise recommendations to the question asked." 

Her work as part of the "From 0-2" project has aided Chelsea's own research by helping her think more broadly and deeply about the kinds of questions she asks. Also, as a Minnesota Population Center (MPC) Graduate Trainee, Chelsea has received extensive demography training. "I apply my demography training from the MPC graduate program with my minors in Population Studies and GIS: Geographic Information Sciences, cartography (map making), and remote sensing (satellite images)," she explains.

Chelsea's research focuses on migration patterns in the post-Soviet and post-Yugoslav republics, specifically how migration affects land use changes and management. This entails a mixture of interdisciplinary work: ethnography and demography combined with technical application to make maps using satellite images of the earth.  "My research requires mixed methods and asking the right questions when involving interviews of local communities, scientific data, and political structures," she says.

"Participating in the 'From 0-2' project as a fellowship recipient has taught me the importance of relevant research questions that not only support academia, but more importantly advance society as a whole. My engagement in this project makes me excited about it's future advancements and its intersection with my own interdisciplinary research."

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.