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University of Massachusetts Amherst Receives Grant from New America to Advance Public Interest Technology Movement

Michelle Trim
Michelle Trim

New America, a non-profit organization whose mission is to address the challenges and embrace the opportunities caused by rapid technological and social change, announced the award of $2.3 million to the University of Massachusetts Amherst and 17 universities and colleges in the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN) during its PIT-UN annual convening in New York City held earlier this month. The funding will support projects aimed at  accelerating inclusion, diversity and equity in technology development.  

The UMass Amherst award will support a project in the Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences and the College of Humanities & Fine Arts that will design and implement an informatics data science course, co-located and integrated with the curriculum of the Poggio Civitate Archaeological Field School, Italy. Emphasizing cultural awareness and social responsibility, Principal Investigator Michelle Trim, informatics program director and senior lecturer II,  and Co-Investigator Anthony Tuck, professor and chair of the Classics Department and of the Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department, will lead a project team in developing a study abroad data science course that expands the data literacy skills of humanities majors while providing experience in applied research in the humanities for informatics majors. The experience's specific focus on data access, security, and stewardship challenges brings opportunities for the recruitment of women and students from underrepresented groups into related data science and public interest technology programs. 

The data science course will satisfy both the informatics elective requirement and a requirement for the Public Interest Technology certificate at UMass Amherst, expected to be launched in 2023. By operating within the existing framework of an established archaeological field school, participating students will learn archaeological excavation and recording techniques through the process of excavation, increasing the effectiveness of their data science lessons. After learning how to create and record new discoveries in the field, participants will then transform those observations into an articulated, interpretive narrative that may be used for the presentation and publication of their data to public audiences.

Other key aspects of the project include the development and hosting of data literacy modules through a partnership with the open access publishing service for research data in archaeology, Open Context, and the delivery of a workshop for students attending Bunker Hill Community College in Boston designed by Bunker Hill Associate Professor Michael Harris. The informatics course, and the opportunity to apply for scholarships covering participation costs, will be promoted to various colleges and universities in the New England region as well as nationally, with a focus on institutions providing education to underrepresented populations. 

"This project focuses on the issues of managing data responsibly to accurately record and capture context for artifacts, situating findings in the prevalent social ecosystem. As this work places humanities values and epistemologies in dialogue with computing principles and applications, it represents the capacity for Public Interest Technology to include a greater footprint in the humanities," says Trim.  

The work will be completed in coordination with UMass Amherst's Public Interest Technology Initiative (PIT@UMass), an initiative launched in 2022 which seeks to provide students and the greater community the skills, awareness, information, and experience to navigate a tech-powered world in a socially responsible way--both as citizens and professionals. 

According to Francine Berman, director of the PIT@UMass Initiative, "We are excited about the positive impact this project will have in situating technical aspects of data science within a larger, public-focused and socially responsible context and, through its publicity, increasing student interest in the area of  humanities."

The Public Interest Technology University Network is a partnership of 48 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 Siegel Family Endowment. PIT-UN is dedicated to building the 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.

Additional Resources

Public Interest Technology Initiative at UMass