Newswise — The Arkansas Economic Development Commission, using flow-through funding from the National Science Foundation, has awarded a postdoctoral research fellow at UA Little Rock a grant worth more than $40,000 to create a machine learning model to predict refugee counts in the United States.

Dr. Esther Mead recently graduated from UA Little Rock with a Ph.D. in integrated computing with an emphasis in information quality. She is currently serving as a postdoctoral research fellow at the UA Little Rock Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies (COSMOS) in the Department of Information Science.

In 2020 and 2021, refugees driven from their homelands have exponentially grown from a number of crises across the world. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 82.4 million people fled their homes in 2020 due to persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, and events that seriously disturb public order.

To conduct this study, Mead will develop a dataset of different sociocultural, socioeconomic, and economic metrics from countries of refugee origin. This robust set of data will be curated into a unique prediction model that will help researchers and policy makers understand the factors that compel human migration and refugee crisis situations.

This project is funded by the Data Analytics that are Robust and Trusted (DART) program from the Arkansas Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) initiative from the National Science Foundation. This project is Mead’s first grant-funded project.

“The award of this DART grant represents my success in making it through the door in the first step to realizing the fruition of one of my heart’s desires, which is to begin creating a continual funding stream for a program involving this and other important research,” Mead said.

Mead wants to use this new opportunity to collaborate with students and other research fellows at UA Little Rock and other institutions on new research endeavors involving big data and predictive research modeling.

“Ultimately, my goals include achieving the ability to hire an increasingly larger number of UA Little Rock students, as well including postdoctoral research fellows and professors as co-principal investigators in order to advance collaboration in research both within and across institutions and across academic disciplines,” she said.