‘Community of Enthusiasts’: Pitt’s Year of Data and Society Gears Up for Spring


As a political scientist and economist, Brennan Conway said he was excited about the upcoming Virtual Year of Data and Society. an event on January 28 census data.

“As a poli-scientist, I find redistricting and gerrymandering fascinating, so I’m excited for an upcoming event to discuss how census data is used in the redistribution of congressional seats,” Conway said, member of the Steering Committee of the Year of Data and Society. committee, said.

Conway, a senior, also said the data isn’t just for STEM-related fields, but for “all fields of study.”

“As data and data science become more integral to our academic community and the world at large, there’s never been a better time to step back and think about how we can use these incredible tools to creating a positive and lasting social impact,” Conway said.

the Provost’s Office identifies Pitt “The Year of” upcoming school year theme at the end of each school year. Provost Ann Cudd announcement last April that the 2021-22 academic year would be the Data and company year, and after a semester of activities, other initiatives are planned for the spring semester.

Eleanor Mattern, chair of the Year of Data and Society Steering Committee – which helps plan events related to this year’s theme – said the Year of Data and Society initiative organizes events that explore the socially responsible data practices and the societal implications of data and its uses.

In Cudd’s April announcement, she said the Year of Data and Society would build on the work of the university’s data science task force, which published a report with recommendations on how to advance data science at Pitt, such as an emphasis on ethics, social impact, and accountability in the use of data.

According to Sera Linardi – who was part of the DTSF and is now part of the steering committee for the Year of Data and Society – the working group recommended building a community to address the role of data in certain issues.

“One of the key recommendations of the DTSF was to create a community of enthusiasts – a transdisciplinary community of students, faculty, and staff inside and outside of Pitt who are passionate about an issue and the role of data in solving this problem”, Linardi, associate professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, noted.

Linardi said she started the From mourning to action initiative in the summer of 2020, which is a community of over 170 volunteers who focus on racial justice issues.

According to Linardi, the Grievance to Action initiative launched two platforms this year. The first was 412Log in, a black-owned scavenger hunt, in Launch of the Year of Data and Society September 8. The group presented the second platform, a website that helps navigate the more than 100 police departments in Allegheny County, in a Conference Year of Data and Society November 19.

“The data and society theme of the year was a perfect fit for us to tell a story about how it is possible to nurture a diverse community in Pitt to create digital tools to take practical action that directly impacts race and social justice in our own neighborhood,” Linardi said.

Mattern, also an assistant teaching professor at the School of Computing and Information and the school principal Sara Fine Institute, said the initiative spotlighted Pitt projects and hosted external speakers last fall with both hybrid and virtual modalities.

An event welcomed Catherine D’Iganzio, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to speak on his book Data feminism – of which she is a co-author – which explores the biases of data technologies used daily. Jonathan Schwabish and Alice Feng, other fall external speakers, also present on how to take a more focused approach to diversity, equity and inclusion in data visualization.

According to Mattern, in the spring semester, the Year of Data and Society Steering Committee will continue to organize events that explore the societal impacts of data and its uses. For example, the an event on census data later this month examines how the data is used to determine the boundaries of legislative constituencies.

Lisa Parker, who sits on the steering committee and credits committee for the Year of Data and Society, said she was excited about upcoming projects that spark discussions about the ethical and social considerations of science. Datas.

Laura Levitt of Temple University will present a conference January 24 discuss art as an opening to consider the lingering effects of trauma and loss, illness and carrying. In addition, Emily Maloney will give a reading of his book on February 16, Cost of life, where she describes how personal experiences can provide data for broader social concerns.

“I’m excited about these things with Laura Levitt and Emily Maloney,” Parker said. “They conceptualize data in ways we don’t often think about.”

Mattern said the Year of Data and Society initiative also has a funding opportunity which supports projects and events led by Pitt faculty, students and staff that are related to the theme.

In the fall semester, funding supported events such as a Latinx data panel, which was part of Latinx Login 2021 conference. This data panel explored the complexity of Latinx data and community, challenges regarding inequitable representation of Latinx data, among other topics.

Mattern said the steering committee looks forward to events from funding opportunity recipients over the next semester.

“For example, one team is running workshops on learning analytics, with the goal of better understanding what data is collected through platforms like Canvas and how that data could be used responsibly,” Mattern said.

The Steering Committee will host an end-of-semester celebration that will include a panel of funding opportunity winners discussing the sustainability of their projects. Linardi said she thinks this will be an important conversation because one of the biggest data challenges for social good initiatives is sustainability.

“I’m really looking forward to having a conversation about the potential good these projects could create, the challenges of doing so, how the grant is helping, and the issue of larger-scale sustainability in the future beyond the lifetime of the grant,” Linardi said.


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