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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is among the 14 member universities of the Southeastern Conference forming a new artificial intelligence consortium. The consortium is designed to grow opportunities in the fast-changing fields of AI and data science, which are expected to be foundational for the future of industry, education, and research. It is believed to be the first athletics conference collaboration to focus on AI for workforce development.

“Artificial intelligence and data science have universal applications, and we are proud to join with SEC universities to lead education and research in these emerging fields,” said Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor John Zomchick. “The consortium will create exciting opportunities for our faculty, staff, and students to explore AI and data science and shape their future.”

Through the SEC AI Consortium, SEC universities will share educational resources such as curricular materials, certificate and degree program structures, and online presentations of seminars and courses; promote faculty, staff, and student workshops and academic conferences; and seek joint partnerships with industry. In addition, they will share best practices for ensuring that students graduate with AI and data science skills that benefit the region and country while also resonating globally.

“This consortium acknowledges the rapid advances and increased applications of AI and data technology in all sectors of society, and it ensures our students are prepared to prosper in a workforce in which AI is expected to play an increasingly important role,” said University of Georgia President Jere W. Morehead, the current president of the SEC. “With this effort, SEC institutions are also answering the call from local, state, and federal leaders who recognize the importance of enhanced training and workforce development to retain US global competitiveness.”

Bilal to present at SEC miniconference on artificial intelligence
Dania Bilal, a professor in UT’s School of Information Sciences, will be a speaker at a virtual miniconference for SEC faculty members. The miniconference, being held April 8 from 1 to 4 p.m., will bring together academics to share expertise and help develop a vision for the future through AI.

Bilal will discuss the preliminary findings of a curriculum study addressing undergraduate and graduate course topics in artificial intelligence and related areas at 54 information schools in the US, Canada, and South America.

The featured speaker for the event will be Ned Finkle, vice president of external affairs for NVIDIA. Faculty members from the University of Florida and Mississippi State University will also speak. Faculty, staff, and students from all disciplines at SEC schools are encouraged to register.

“This SEC consortium is very important and timely. It brings together an interdisciplinary group of people who share a common interest in AI, which allows for many different perspectives on the issues and challenges of adopting AI,” Bilal stated. “For example, there are issues of ethics, bias, and safety. It is also timely to look at what current curricula include about AI.”

Bilal is the principal investigator of the IDEA (Innovation, Disruption, Enquiry, Access) Institute on Artificial Intelligence, launched in July 2021 with support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The IDEA Institute promotes cutting-edge technology and concepts that can be practically applied within the field of information sciences. She recently partnered with doctoral student Fengpei Yuan and her advisor, Professor Xiaopeng Zhao, in UT’s Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering, and Assistant Professor Ran Zhang in Miami University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering to study how social robots could provide certain therapies for people with dementia to mitigate cognitive decline.

Bilal is next slated to present “The Shift: Transforming Libraries through Artificial Intelligence” later this month at the Tennessee Library Association conference, where she and her co-presenters will discuss critical gaps in educating practitioners in AI.


Chris Schmitz (865-974-8304,