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Marshalltown Benefits in 'Data Science for Public Good' Project
Iowa Ag Connection - 01/22/2020

More people are riding the bus in Marshalltown, according to an article in the current issue of Community Matters. In fact, ridership increased by 11% this past year, the highest percentage increase in ridership of rural transit providers in Iowa.

Marshalltown population and bus stop map.The significant increase in ridership can be attributed to data-driven decisions made by Kevin Pigors, Marshalltown Municipal Transit administrator since January 2019. Pigors, with assistance from Iowa State University researchers and students, applied data and knowledge about Marshalltown transportation needs and services to make positive changes to the community's public transportation system.

Data such as those used by Pigors are valuable tools, if one knows where to find them and how to use them. Unfortunately, small, rural communities don't always have the resources and expertise necessary to use pertinent data effectively in the planning and decision-making process.

In an effort to assist rural communities, Iowa State University initiated a "Data Science for the Public Good" pilot project in spring 2018 in Marshalltown, with the goal of engaging researchers with local leaders to help them solve problems using their own data and knowledge. The project results gave Pigors a framework within which to make positive changes to the community's public transportation system.

The Marshalltown pilot project was a collaboration of several colleges and departments at Iowa State University, with the ISU Extension and Outreach Community and Economic Development Geospatial and Data Science staff playing an integral role in the project.

The transportation project in Marshalltown is the forerunner to a three-state initiative that includes teams from Iowa, Virginia and Oregon. The Iowa team, including project lead Cassandra Dorius, assistant professor in the College of Human Sciences; Shawn Dorius, associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Chris Seeger, ISU professor and extension landscape architect and key collaborator on the Marshalltown project; have partnered with ISU Extension and Outreach to infuse data science into agriculture research, workforce development, and extension activities, with a focus on rural communities.

A goal of the three-state project is to lead to advances in the applications of big data across problems in health and nutrition, food and agriculture, youth development, and community resource development.

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