News Release

UMBC team of data scientists named a tools competition winner

With this funding, the team gains the opportunity to develop an online tool called Caselet, designed to enhance learners’ data science problem-solving.

Grant and Award Announcement

University of Maryland Baltimore County

Baltimore – A team of four data scientists from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, was named today as one of 32 winners of the Tools Competition, one of the largest education technology (edtech) competitions in the world that awarded more than $4 million to winners this year. 

The team was a winner in the DARPA AI Tools for Adult Learning opportunity, which sought artificial intelligence-powered tools to help adults learn complex topics necessary for the current and future national security workforce (e.g., AI engineering and cyber defense).

With this funding, the UMBC team gains the opportunity to develop an online tool called Caselet, designed to enhance learners’ data science problem-solving. 

“In an era when AI tools such as chatGPT can craft codes, aspiring data scientists or analysts need to develop robust higher-order reasoning and problem-solving skills that are less likely to be replaced by AI,” says Karen Chen, an assistant professor in the department of Information Systems at UMBC, who leads the team. 

The platform facilitates the development of such skills through the self-paced practice of bite-sized, real-world data science case studies, also called “caselets.” The tool will offer AI-augmented feedback to coach users through practice. 

“This prize will jump-start our research and development work in the Caselet platform,” says Chen. “We will be able to add intelligent coaching functions, as well as functions from the learning engineering community.” The learning engineering community pulls together educators, researchers and technology experts who seek to leverage big data to both better understand elements of learning and drive a cycle of continuous product improvement to optimize learning. 

Chen says the DARPA funding will also enable her team to explore how to scale up the creation of new caselets—including cyber security analytics cases—so that the tool will be ready for wide adoption. At the same time, the team will contribute to research into how best to teach data science problem-solving.

In addition to Chen, the UMBC team members are Shimei Pan, an associate professor in information systems, Patricia Ordóñez, also an associate professor in information systems, and Vandana Janeja, professor and department chair of information systems. 

Teams recognized and supported as part of DARPA’s AI Tools for Adult Learning include entrepreneurs, industry experts, researchers, data scientists, and workforce development experts who leverage edtech and AI to improve adult learning and reskilling outcomes. The tools being developed by the winning cohort focus on everything from workforce training to intelligent tutoring, immersive skills training, and personalized, self-directed learning.

DARPA’s AI Tools for Adult Learning Agency was one of two funding opportunities this year as part of the Tools Competition, which received more than 1,000 initial submissions from applicants across the globe, with over 250 submissions to DARPA’s AI Tools for Adult Learning alone.

The Tools Competition is in its third cycle and has awarded nearly $10 million to 80 winners around the world to date. The next cycle of the Tools Competition will launch on September 21, 2023. To learn more, sign up to attend the virtual competition launch event here

For more details on UMBC’s winning proposal please visit

A full list of winners and their projects can be found here.


For over 60 years, DARPA has held to a singular and enduring mission: to make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies. Its innovations over the years include the Internet, automated voice recognition and language translation, and Global Positioning System receivers small enough to embed in myriad consumer devices. DARPA reaches for transformational change instead of incremental advances, working within an innovation ecosystem that includes academic, corporate and governmental partners. DARPA addresses challenges broadly, spanning the spectrum from deep science to systems to capabilities, but is ultimately driven by the desire to make a difference. The DARPA AI Tools for Adult Learning opportunity was supported by DARPA, and administered by Georgia State University and The Learning Agency.

Tools Competition Background

The Tools Competition is one of the largest edtech competitions in the world. It aims to grow the field of learning engineering by spurring ed tech innovations dedicated to leveraging big data to support learning science research and the needs of learners worldwide. 

The Tools Competition ran two funding opportunities this year: The Learning Engineering Tools Competition focused on Pre-K-12 learners and was supported by Schmidt Futures; Kenneth C. Griffin, Citadel, and Citadel Securities; the Walton Family Foundation; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and AlleyCorp.


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