NSF awards $500,000 CAREER grant to Schweik

By Patrick J. Callahan

Charles M. Schweik, assistant professor of Natural Resources Conservation and the Center for Public Policy and Administration, has received a five-year, $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program to study open source software projects on the Internet. The CAREER grants support early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century, according to the NSF.

Schweik says the main goal of his project is to identify factors that lead to success or failure of Internet-based free and open source software projects and emerging online “open content” collaborations. Open source software differs from Windows and other well-known computer programs because it can be freely copied and shared with others. It also differs in the way it is created and maintained. Traditional software tends to be developed by programmers employed in private firms. In open source settings, paid or volunteer programmers collaborate over the Internet.

“Open source software, and the collaboration that helps develop it, has great promise beyond its use in computer science,” Schweik says. “I believe we are in a new potential era in sharing scientific knowledge.”

Schweik says he will use his research to develop a sequence of courses for students interested in solving environmental or public policy problems. Currently, many individuals and organizations worldwide are unable to pay for special proprietary software needed to conduct such analyses, he says. This curriculum will show students how to use such software and also encourage them to contribute to such collaborations in some form, such as the writing of new documentation or testing.

To develop and teach his courses, Schweik will use the open source computer teaching laboratory created on campus last year through another grant he received last year from IBM Corp. for equipment and staffing. He says the lab will be critical for teaching of this curriculum and will allow other faculty to teach the use of open source software in their classes as well. This laboratory is designed to serve the non-science major students on campus, he says.