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Ashley Atkins Reflects on Her West Hub Leadership Role and Future Direction

By: Ray Chen, Research Experience for High School Students, San Diego Supercomputer Center

The West Big Data Innovation Hub recently announced Ashley Atkins as executive director. Prior to working with the West Hub, Atkins worked as a research scientist at New Mexico State University’s New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, where her work focused on understanding the interconnections between social and hydrologic systems, particularly for transboundary groundwater regions.

Earlier in her career, Atkins was awarded a Fulbright grant to conduct research on the water resources shared between Bulgaria and Greece. She said that she is utilizing lessons learned from her past experiences with use-inspired research and management to lead the West Hub.

“Ashley has been the perfect person for this phase of the Hub,” said West Hub Principal Investigator (PI) Christine Kirkpatrick, Research Data Services director at the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UC San Diego. “Her leadership and management qualities, her polish and diplomacy, and her community building and inclusion skills were exactly what the organization needed. This is balanced with deep expertise in one of our region’s critical issues, water, and how applying data (science) can help us to understand and model approaches for combating scarcity and climate change.”

One of the West Hub’s initial priorities under Atkins’s leadership was a makeover of the West Hub website. According to Atkins, community engagement and accessibility were prioritized in the website redesign. The goal was to create a site where visitors have a clear understanding of the West Hub’s mission and programs, as well as information on getting involved with the community and its resources.

Additionally, Atkins has reconvened the West Hub Steering Committee (SC), and welcomed four new committee members. The SC, which provides guidance on the West Hub’s direction and priorities, represents a diverse group of experts from across the region. The SC includes existing members Julie Meier-Wright (California Council on Science & Technology/US Council on Competitiveness), Sam Fernald (New Mexico State University/New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute), Steve Cutchin (Boise State University), and Thomas Hauser (National Center for Atmospheric Research) as well as new members Al Kuslikis (American Indian Association of Higher Education), Gwen Jacobs (Hawai'i Data Science Institute at UH), Kari Jordan (The Carpentries), and Vani Mandava (Microsoft). Vani Mandava also represents the West Hub on the national BD Hubs level as the National Coordination Committee representative.

“The West Big Data Innovation Hub is a prominent leader in equitable data science teaching and learning,” said West Hub Steering Committee Member Kari Jordan, executive director for The Carpentries. “Their efforts to improve BIPOC participation in data science are why I'm proud to be a member of the Steering Committee.”

Atkins said that the West Hub’s current focus is now almost entirely on sustainability efforts related to maximizing the Hub’s impact and setting up core initiatives for success beyond the current funding.

“Our priority initiatives include Data Science for Social Good work and Carpentries trainings led out of UW, GO FAIR U.S. work led out of UC San Diego and our cross-institutional collaboration related to water, which focuses on leveraging the strengths of data science to support resilient water futures in the Western U.S.,” Atkins said. “As of June, the West Hub leads the national coordination of the four regional Big Data Hubs. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with the other Hubs in this capacity to leverage our collective strengths in the context of sustainability-focused initiatives.”

One such initiative was June’s National Workshop on Data Science Education. The workshop, organized by the UC Berkeley Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society, with sponsorship fromWest Hub, Microsoft, GitHub and Deepnote, was a four-day conference event with lectures and demonstrations occurring both in person at the UC Berkeley campus and online.

“My fellow West Hub Principal Investigator Christine Kirkpatrick convinced Ashley to apply for the position,” said West Hub PI Ed Lazowska of the University of Washington. “As soon as the rest of us met Ashley, she became the runaway favorite. Ashley has done an extraordinary job of taking the reins and catapulting the West Hub forward despite the uniquely challenging environment of the past year.”

About West Big Data Innovation Hub:

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the West Big Data Innovation Hub’s mission is to build and strengthen partnerships across industry, academia, nonprofits, and government to address societal and scientific challenges, spur economic development, and foster a national big data ecosystem. The West Hub serves the thirteen western states from Montana to New Mexico and everything west, including Hawaii and Alaska. The Hub’s projects, events, activities, and initiatives span regional thematic areas as well as cross-cutting topics. Thematic areas include metro/urban data science as well as natural resources and hazards with a particular focus on water. Cross-cutting areas include cloud computing, data challenges and storytelling communities of practice, public policy and ethics, responsible data science, security, and data sharing.

Related Links:

West Big Data Innovation Hub:

National Science Foundation:


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