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Students and community organizers around a table with computers discussing data science.
Students discuss the potential of data science with community organizations at the annual Scope-a-thon event hosted by UChicago’s South Side Civic student group.

By Kathryn Mattie, Program Director of Computational Analysis & Public Policy

The University of Chicago has received a grant from the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN), a partnership of universities dedicated to combining public policy and digital innovation for societal benefit, to create the Community Data Fellows program, a new initiative that works toward the interests of marginalized Chicagoans. To that end, the Fellows program will pair local, community-based nonprofit organizations with UChicago graduate students (Fellows) who possess skills in technology and policy analysis.

The Fellows program follows in the footsteps of UChicago’s annual Scope-a-thon event (hosted by UChicago’s South Side Civic student group) and Community Programs Accelerator initiative, both of which facilitate connections between UChicago and local community organizations to leverage data and technology in service of those organizations’ missions.

“We’re thrilled to receive this generous grant from PIT-UN to build on the student-led community partnerships that begin during Scope-a-thon,” said David Uminsky, Executive Director of the Data Science Institute at UChicago and the principal investigator for the program. “By building year-long partnerships between Chicago-based community organizations and a diverse group of UChicago graduate students, the program will enhance these organizations’ capacities to fulfill their social impact missions and help train the next generation of public interest technologist.”

Students in the University’s Master of Science in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MSCAPP) program, jointly led by the Harris School of Public Policy and the Department of Computer Science, are expected to have strong interest in the Fellows program given their commitment to bringing technology and data science to bear on public policy issues.

“This new program creates transformative opportunities for students across the university, in particular MSCAPP students who are already focused on finding solutions to policy problems through the use of data and technology,” said Jeff Jackson, assistant director, MSCAPP program. “The work extends the University’s commitment to leveraging data, civic engagement, and making a positive impact on the communities around campus.”

The Fellows program also calls for quarterly workshops that focus on further building organizations’ data and technology capacities and fostering community among organizations, as well as on soliciting feedback from organizations on how the work with students is impacting the communities they serve.

“The project will deepen and expand UChicago’s commitment to the Chicago community and promote a diverse and much needed pipeline of students to careers in public interest technology,” added Uminsky. It is projected that 3.5 million new data professionals in the social sector will be required over the next ten years, according to the recent Data.org “Workforce Wanted: Data Talent for Social Impact” report.

The Public Interest Technology University Network (PITUN), which was convened in 2019 by the Ford Foundation, New America, and the Hewlett Foundation, is a partnership of colleges and universities dedicated to building the nascent field of public interest technology, as well as growing a new generation of civic-minded technologists and digitally fluent policy leaders. The Network Challenge is funded through the generous support of the Ford Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, Mastercard Impact Fund, Siegel Family Endowment, Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, Schmidt Futures, and Raikes Foundation.

The UChicago Data Science Institute is hiring a Community Data Fellows Program Manager to oversee this program. Apply here (EOE/Vet/Disability).