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Five adults in a row are facing the camera and smiling, in front of a large TV screen with UChicago logo.

Community Data Fellows spent their Autumn months working closely with staff from local nonprofits and government agencies, including South Side-based Praize Productions, Inc.,  the Illinois Commission on Equity and Inclusion, and others, to build long-term, community-centric data solutions. Now in its second year, the Community Data Fellows program is an important part of the Data Science Institute’s commitment to data science for social impact. 

The Community Data Fellows program was originally launched as a pilot program in January 2022. Shortly afterwards, the program was expanded in Spring 2023 through grant funding by the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN), a partnership of universities dedicated to combining public policy and digital innovation for societal benefit. 

“I recommend this program as it exposes students to experiences much closer to what one can find in the professional field.”

– Manuel Mendez (MSCAPP ‘24)

As Community Data Fellows, UChicago graduate students work on data-related projects for community and civic organizations. They collaborate with the organizations to identify their data science needs and goals, develop project plans, and create deliverables to help them improve their outreach and impact. Autumn 2023 Fellows from multiple degree programs worked on a wide range of social impact projects for organizations focused on topics such as supporting public education, performing arts, and climate change solutions.


Manuel Mendez (MSCAPP ‘24) worked on a large-scale data cleaning project for the education policy organization Kids First Chicago. Mendez transformed, cleaned, and filtered multiple large public datasets for Kids First Chicago to use in future projects. This data will help Kids First Chicago continue in their mission to improve K-12 education in Chicago by partnering with Black and Latine parents for resources, access, and advocacy. 


Santiago Segovia Baquero (MSCAPP ‘24) and Stephania Tello Zamudio (MSCAPP ‘24) created an interactive geospatial visualization for the Internet Equity Initiative at the Data Science Institute. Segovia’s and Tello’s project illustrates the locations and broadband Internet access options of local Illinois public libraries. These anchor institutions are often key for residents’ Internet access, so the Internet Equity Initiative needed a way to visualize the distribution and broadband access of public libraries. This map will help inform IEI’s future research and policy work to expand broadband Internet access across the United States. 


The Chicago dance and arts organization Praize Productions, Inc. worked with Athmika Senthilkumar (MPP ‘25). Senthilkumar created a robust analysis of Praize Production, Inc.’s impact in the Chicago performing arts sphere, demonstrating their important role in the South Side dance community. Praize Productions, Inc. will use Senthilkumar’s work to learn more about their audiences and funders in the future, as they work to bring dance opportunities to Chicago families and performers. 


Josemaria Macedo (MSCAPP ‘24) continued his previous work as a Summer ‘23 Community Data Fellow with the climate and agricultural focused organizations FracTracker and Oakland Institute. For Oakland Institute, Macedo cleaned, grouped, aggregated, and visualized data about grain exports to Ukraine, India, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. This information will help Oakland Institute study agricultural land concentration and increase transparency about our global agricultural supply chains. For FracTracker, Macedo  worked to create webforms for multiple U.S. states’ environmental agencies. These webforms help community members track and report environmental concerns caused by oil and gas development, and provide a quick and easy place for residents to contact their local environmental agency for further investigation. 


Daniel Posmik (GSAL ‘24) built upon work that previous Community Data Fellows created for the State of Illinois Commission on Equity and Inclusion. Posmik created an interactive visualization that illustrates the locations and certification types of businesses participating in the Commission’s Business Enterprise Program. This visualization will assist Commission staff in demonstrating the wide-reaching impact of their work as they continue to support women-, veteran-, and minority-owned businesses across Illinois and beyond. 


“We’re so excited to see this program continue to benefit students and organizational partners for the Winter 2024 quarter,” says Ari Zickau, Community Data Fellows Program Manager. “We had a record number of student applications for Winter 2024, which just shows how eager UChicago students are to contribute their data science and technical skills to their community.” Fellows in the Winter Quarter are partnering with journalism, health, and digital equity organizations on data analysis projects. Nonprofits and civic organizations who are interested in completing short-term data projects are invited to partner with Community Data Fellows and build long-lasting relationships that benefit our unique Chicago and Illinois communities.