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Collaboration Group members Hector Rendon and Jessica Jameson use a method of data analysis known as affinity diagramming to sort their observations of LAS meetings into themes

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Engineers have their own way of talking about their work. Computer scientists often speak a different kind of code. Statisticians employ yet another specialized language. Get them all together and it can feel like a veritable Tower of Babel.

Such varied discipline-specific languages are being spoken at NC State’s Laboratory for Analytic Sciences (LAS), the National Security Agency-funded research enterprise on Centennial Campus that’s advancing the field of big-data analytics and intelligence analysis. Faculty, industry and government partners there are working to improve the nation’s ability to collect, understand and interpret data from foreign communications, radar and other electronic systems.

“Interdisciplinary teams are looking into how best to analyze big data efficiently, effectively and ethically,” says Jessica Jameson, professor of communication. “But because the members come from such disparate orientations, perspectives and disciplines, communication was less than ideal. There was growing frustration about processes, and because the groups were working on important information that helps ensure national security, it was imperative that they learn to collaborate effectively.”

Enter the Collaboration Group, led by Jameson and comprising experts in social science, communication, management and design. Members serve as group facilitators for the LAS teams, provide technical support and serve as the organizational memory for team meetings and projects. They’re also conducting research to identify the contributors and impediments to interdisciplinary collaboration.

“We are playing a vital role in moving research forward at the LAS,” says Jameson. “We are ensuring they are all on the same page.”

The Collaboration Group includes Fulbright scholar Hector Rendon, a doctoral student in the interdisciplinary Communication, Rhetoric and Digital Media program. “As communication experts, we can ask questions so that points are restated in ways that everyone can understand,” he says. “The goal is to make the process of collaboration as easy as possible.”

Rendon appreciates the opportunity to apply what he’s learning in the classroom. “Communication is important in every discipline,” he says. “As experts in it, we have a lot to bring to the table.”

By Caroline Barnhill

This article first appeared in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences magazine, Accolades.