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Sociology and Anthropology

WolfWebs – An Interview With Andrew Davis

A brick sidewalk/pathway in the middle of the court of North Carolina

For this month’s article, I had the opportunity to meet one of the assistant professors in our department, Andrew Davis to learn more about one of his current collaborative projects, WolfWebs. This is a great opportunity for research, training and community in our department.

WolfWebs is a group of faculty members and graduate students who come from different fields at NC State to bring people together to study social network analysis as a tool. This has created the ability to utilize text networks in research, going beyond the study of personal relationships to focus on the study of networks within texts such as books and social media.

Andrew Davis.

WolfWebs started as an idea created by Davis and Steve McDonald. Both of them teach social network analysis and wanted to create an opportunity for engagement for graduate students and other interested faculty. Their mission was to build a community of people who are interested in this method. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been reduced opportunities for intellectual engagement, and this project came from the need for these opportunities.

This year, they were able to get a grant opportunity from the Data Science Academy to fund WolfWebs, which gave them the ability to collaborate with more faculty members who have been crucial to WolfWebs’ success, such as Robin Dodsworth and Branda Nowell. They were also able to use the grant to invite guest speakers for a speaker series. These speakers include world class scholars in network analysis from institutions such as Duke University, Yale University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Arizona and the University of Groningen. They have been able to have these speakers give their talks in both the Hunt and D.H. Hill Libraries.

With help from the Data Science Academy, Davis and colleagues have been able to make this project a reality. WolfWebs is important for faculty and students to become trained in social network analysis, which is a fantastic tool for sociological research. However, it is rare for a university to have this opportunity. There are similar models around the country similar to WolfWebs, and Davis has goals of building a special program at NC State. 

One of WolfWebs’ most recent events was part of the guest speaker series. Kathleen Carley, a professor in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University, spoke during this event. Carley was able to give a tutorial to students on how to use a free and publicly available software software she developed for social network analysis called ORA and a presentation of her research from the last ten years. All events for WolfWebs allow students to gain exposure to new ideas.

As for what is to come with WolfWebs, Davis and the WolfWebs leadership want to continue to build a community of scholars interested in social network analysis and expand interdisciplinary skills. With new funding opportunities, WolfWebs has plans for a workshop by the end of the year. Davis also wanted to make NC State one of the top universities for social network analysis training. He also wants to build connections with other universities, such as the Duke Network Analysis Center (DNAC). One day, undergraduate students might have shorter courses available to offer in the social sciences. 

For more information about WolfWebs and upcoming events, please visit the WolfWebs website here.

This article is by Maddie Bain, a Department of Sociology and Anthropology student ambassador majoring in criminology and minoring in psychology and forensic science.