The Data Science for the Public Good program (DSPG) engages young scholars in finding solutions to some of the most pressing social issues of our time. DSPG fellows conduct research at the intersection of statistics, computation, and the social sciences to determine how information generated within every community can be leveraged to improve quality of life.

Problem

Our communities are engaged in a tremendous struggle to manage conflicting forces that threaten their ability to evolve and thrive. Government officials and policymakers must continuously develop their capacity to provide health, safety, security, employment, and leisure to their constituents. Sustaining this level of growth is becoming increasingly difficult in a climate of diminishing resources, mounting inequality, rapid technological change, and expanding global networks. 

Data-driven research provides a rich, mutually rewarding opportunity to leverage community knowledge and public information resources to affect positive social change. The Data Science for the Public Good program was established to connect aspiring data science scholars to communities which can benefit from their expertise.

Students selected through a competitive application process are engaged in a series of hands-on learning experiences while policymakers and government leaders receive data analysis support to inform difficult decisions related to healthcare, education, and social justice.  

The story of each community—its problems, needs, and aspirations—is contained within its data. The DSPG program's overarching objective is to equip new generations of scientists with the skills they need to bring this story to light for leaders in local government. 

Methods

The Data Science for the Public Good program teaches student fellows how to sift through vast amounts of information related to public safety, employment, and the provision of services to discover how communities can become more efficient and sustainable. Through the lenses of statistics, social science, and data science research, DSPG students will learn to integrate all available data resources in order to:

  • Identify pressing issues through direct engagement with government and community leaders.
  • Develop mechanisms to assist decision-makers in framing their large-scale policy questions and identifying data sources which can be leveraged to address these issues at the local, state, and federal levels.
  • Create a two-way data pipeline to give local leaders a direct link to cutting-edge scientific analyses and researchers easier access to local, state, and federal data flows.

DSPG fellows are also given opportunities to diversify their expertise and form lasting professional connections by taking part in the Social and Decision Analytics Laboratory's data-driven research projects. Our research teams are:

  • Horizontally integrated, combining disciplines including statistics, data science, and the social and behavioral sciences to address complex issues.
  • Vertically integrated, allowing students to collaborate with project stakeholders at all levels including undergraduates, graduates, postdoctoral associates, research faculty, and local, state, and federal agency leadership.

These unique fellowship experiences are made possible through the support of several research organizations dedicated to serving the public good: Virginia Tech’s Global Forum for Urban and Regional Resilience (GFURR); American Statistical Association’s NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU); and sponsored research. 

Impact

As metropolitan areas assume greater responsibility for driving social transformation and economic prosperity, the demand for publicly engaged and highly trained data scientists will continue to grow.

For students eager to participate in this emerging field, the Data Science for Public Good program promises to deliver a unique set of resources and opportunities.

World-Class Training: DSPG fellows participate in professional training and development workshops, poster presentations, and technical report and publication writing. Formal sessions on data science practices introduce students to scientific and statistical computing tools including R, Python, and GIS. Workshops also include accessing and using local, state and federal data resources such as Census products and open data portals. 

Professional Support: Each DSPG fellow is assigned a post-doctoral and senior researcher mentor. These mentors guide students' research and facilitate discussions about future career opportunities, with a focus on public service. DSPG fellows also participate in strategic planning activities related to their projects including sponsor meetings, presentations, and other events.

National Networks: Leveraging our laboratory's location in the National Capital Region, excursions are organized to events at AAAS, national academies, congressional hearings, and a variety of Washington metropolitan science and technology activities. Fellows also attend the SDAL seminar series with national and international speakers from government, academia, and industry.

To learn more about how our DSPG program is making a difference in the lives of students, read this profile on our inaugural cohort of summer research fellows. 

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