National Science Foundation grant establishes data center at UK (Herald-Leader)

The University of Kentucky will establish a new data center to advance research of poverty, health care and other important indicators in U.S. populations.

The Kentucky Research Data Center will be housed at UK’s Gatton College of Business and Economics, heading up a consortium that includes Indiana University, Ohio State University, University of Cincinnati and University of Louisville. The U.S. Census Bureau has established 25 other research data centers at schools around the country.

The National Science Foundation provided a $300,000 grant, but UK will put up nearly $1 million over the next three years, said Jim Ziliak, a Gatton professor who started the process to get a center at UK almost two years ago. Ziliak already heads up the UK Center for Poverty Research.

“The university is behind this 100 percent, and I couldn’t have done this without UK’s backing,” he said.

Ziliak said the data center is unique because it allows access to federal data that is generally restricted because of privacy concerns, such as where people live.

For example, he said, what if a researcher wanted to study outcomes of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative, called SOAR, to improve the economy of Eastern Kentucky? Right now, the researcher wouldn’t be able to compare people who live in different counties. But with the new data, that will be possible while still maintaining complete confidentiality.

“It really opens the possibility of more multidisciplinary research,” Ziliak said, in areas such as economics, sociology, public health, statistics, education and medicine. Researchers will work on topics such as income and health disparities, poverty measurement, food insecurity and race and gender.

The other UK investigators are Chris Bollinger, an economics professor in Gatton; Eugenia Toma of the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration; Glen Mays of the College of Public Health; and Derek Young, a statistics professor in the College of Arts and Science.

“This center will enable researchers at UK and in surrounding regions to have an immense economic, social and health-related impact by providing restricted access to data through a partnership with the Bureau of the Census,” said Lisa Cassis, UK's vice president for research. “This prestigious NSF grant award will move researchers forward in understanding factors that contribute to health and economic gaps in the commonwealth.”