The University of the South receives grant funding for public interest technology, a vote of confidence to fuel inclusive practices.

As more attention is being paid to the effects of technology on public, civic, social, and psychological life in the U.S., there has been a continued push to grow the next-generation technologists, advocates, and policymakers who use technology and expertise transparently to address the most critical problems in the public interest. 

New America has awarded 31 grants totaling $3.61 million dollars to 24 members of the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN), including one to Sewanee. 

The University’s grant of $180,000 will be used to expand its DataLab, an intensive summer program that offered student interns computer coding training to allow them to solve data problems for local and regional organizations. DataLab is a collaboration of the Career Center, the Office of Civic Engagement, and the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. Under the direction of Professor Matthew Rudd, chair of Mathematics and Computer Science, DataLab seeks to wed community engagement with data analysis and to prepare students for careers in public interest data analysis.

The summer institute educates aspiring social changemakers to use data tools. They build marketable data analysis skills and frame their growing competence in a context of positive social change. Learn more here. Joe Brew, C’08, who served last summer as a Sewanee DataLab instructor, said, “DataLab is showing that at a liberal arts college, we can incorporate data analysis into the education of students in every discipline, and those students can use their skills to make the world a better place.”

“We have seen what happens when technology that is meant for mass audiences, communities, or public citizens of a region, state, or country is designed without their input or consideration for how it might affect them or society at large,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America. “New America’s PIT-UN was designed to turn that dynamic on its head by making sure that those most proximate to problems are directly present in the crafting of solutions and are empowered to do so from an early stage. We’re excited to support a new group of grantees that are catalyzing public interest technology on their campus."

PIT-UN is a group of 43 academic institutions committed to bringing students and educators from multiple disciplines together to solve the toughest challenges our country and world face. Other colleges and universities awarded grants this year include City University of New York, Georgia Tech, Harvard University, MIT, William & Mary, Stanford, and the University of Michigan.  

“Through public interest technology, these academic institutions have begun to center our collective need for justice, dignity, and autonomy, embedding these values into technological progress,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “Their graduates will shape technological policies, tools, and organizations that will materially improve and transform the lives of all, particularly the most vulnerable.”

The Public Interest Technology University Network is a partnership of colleges and universities convened by New America, the Ford Foundation, and the Hewlett Foundation. The network and challenge grants are funded through the support of the Ford Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, Mastercard Impact Fund, with support from the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, The Raikes Foundation, Schmidt Futures and The Siegel Family Endowment. PIT-UN is dedicated to building the nascent field of public interest technology through curriculum development, faculty research opportunities, and experiential learning programs, in order to inspire a new generation of civic-minded technologists and policy leaders.