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ESC awards grant to Krannert faculty member for community-based research on criminal justice system

Thursday, August 12, 2021

The Engagement Scholarship Consortium (ESC) has awarded Krannert Associate Professor Pengyi Shi a seed grant for her proposal titled “A Community Approach for Racial Justice: Decision Analytics  Using Fair Machine Learning and Optimization.”

Shi’s research focuses on building data-driven, high fidelity models and developing predictive and prescriptive analytics to support decisions making under uncertainty in healthcare and service systems.

One of her main research streams is to develop patient flow models to improve hospital operations and patient outcomes. This stream of research was implemented as tools for supporting inpatient discharge management and for supporting COVID-19 response in the hospital systems in Indiana. Recently, she has started working on developing predictive and operations tools for the criminal justice system.

In this proposed research, she will develop data-driven, fair machine learning and analytical tools in collaboration with the community partner, Tippecanoe County (Indiana) Community Corrections (TCCC), to aid the design and deployment of community-based programs.

Shi’s Purdue partner in the proposed project is Dr. Xiaoqian Wang from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, whose research expertise is machine learning with a focus on fair data representation and processing. Community partners include Jason Huber, executive director at TCCC, and Kelly Morehouse, deputy director and program manager.

“This grant will provide great help to my ongoing research on applying fair machine learning and optimization to reduce bias in criminal justice systems,” Shi says. “It is a close collaboration with Tippecanoe County Community Corrections, so I’m hoping my expertise could help the local community through this research.”

The goal is to help community partners to better allocate their limited resources to maximize the benefit to society while reducing racial disparity in incarceration and recidivism.

“Our main research questions involve using cutting-edge machine learning tools to understand which subgroups benefit the most from the community-based support programs with short- and long-term fairness considerations, and how to allocate resources to support groups in greatest need and to reduce disparities in program and medical treatment access,” Shi says.

Beyond the awarded project, Shi has also been actively working with Dr. Nan Kong from the School of Biomedical Engineering, Dr. Nicole Adams from the School of Nursing at Purdue, and Dr. Jonathan Helm from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University in the area of criminal justice with data-driven research.

“Our school places a large emphasis on using data to help make sound, informed business decisions,” says David Hummels, Dr. Samuel R. Allen Dean of the Krannert School. “The research Professor Shi is doing is a prime example of applying the concepts we study and teach every day to make our community stronger. It also shows the interdisciplinary nature of what Purdue does to move the world forward.”

Conducting scholarship that is mutually beneficial for the university scholar and for the community is of great interest to members of the Engaged Scholarship Consortium. The ESC Engaged Scholarship Research/Creative Activities Grants Program for Faculty competitively awards a limited number of grants that are intended to fund one-year projects, and collaborative projects among faculty from more than one discipline and/or more than one university. As an award recipient, Shi is going to be present as the panelist at the 2021 ESC Research Conference.

Steve Abel, Purdue associate provost for engagement, says, “Purdue is an active member of ESC.  We consistently encourage our faculty and staff to apply for grants, awards, and to present their findings at this important meeting.  I am particularly pleased to have a grant recipient from Krannert, as we know there is significant, important engagement through the School of Management.”