New digital innovation manager Watts to bring bright ideas to Division of Ag tech
- Watts is division’s first digital and innovation manager
- Watts will seek, test new tech for Division of Ag applications
By Mary Hightower
U of A System Division of Agriculture
(Newsrooms -with photo of Watts here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmyKkk1e)
LITTLE ROCK – There’s plenty of room for some of the world’s newest technologies to be used in one of humanity’s longest-lived innovations: farming. Karen Watts, the new digital and innovation manager for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, is on board to bring them together.
“I love learning about emerging technologies and I get to learn the newest technologies every day,” she said. This job “is like a hackathon. I look to see what works, develop a proof of concept and prototype the new technology for us. It’s going to put us ahead in innovation.”
Watts has been working for the Division at the Cooperative Extension Service Information Technology unit for about 18 months. In her new position, she’ll be “looking at new and emerging technologies and how they can be implemented in the Division of Agriculture with existing and new applications,” she said.
Sam Boyster, chief operating officer for the Cooperative Extension Service, said he was looking forward to seeing how Watts will integrate emerging technologies into the division’s daily mission.
“We hear a lot about blockchain, AI and machine learning,” Boyster said. “This position will allow us to stay abreast of these innovations and their application across agriculture, as well as our other supported program areas.
“The goal is to see how we can leverage these technologies to the advantage of Arkansas producers and help us educate our agents and clientele in these areas,” he said.
The Division of Agriculture conducts research through its Agricultural Experiment Station and transfers discoveries to the public through the Cooperative Extension Service.
“No other extension office has this position. We are setting a trend,” Watts said. “I wanted to help agents and producers and make a difference in their lives.”
At a recent conference, Watts saw researchers using AI in rice genome work. “Artificial intelligence isn’t the future,” she said. “It’s the present.”
Watts presented a litany of potential avenues to put ag and tech together, including blockchain, advanced climate softwre using machine learning to do predictive analysis; nano trackers and sensors; chatbots and other virtual assistants; data mining and data visualization; and the new possibilities offered by 5G mobile platforms.
She will also continue her work in application development, including e-commerce and business intelligence and “educating in the use of the new technologies and also pursuing and obtaining grants,” Watts said. “I wear many hats.”
Among her roles is that of student. After completing her Masters of Science in Information Science in the fall of 2019, she will pursue her PhD in Computer and Information Science.
While an undergraduate in information sciences at UA-Little Rock, Watts traveled the country competing in hackathons – events in which coders compete or collaborate to create usable software within a limited time -- is another concept she’s bringing to the Division of Agriculture. She helped develop RockCity Hacks, the first hackathon designed for grades 9-12. All the case uses will be ag-based. (See: http://bit.ly/RockHacks19)
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service