Green graph over Washington State

Data Science for Social Good Program Launches for Summer 2021

By: Emily Keller

On June 14th, the University of Washington’s Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) summer program began with eight student fellows working on two project teams in collaboration with data scientists from the eScience Institute and project leads from academic institutions. Student fellows joined the program from colleges and universities around the country. Their areas of study include public health, education policy, biological anthropology, political science, industrial and systems engineering, and epidemiology.

The DSSG program, which began in 2015, welcomes project leads from academia, public agencies, nonprofits and industry to guide teams through the ten-week course run by the eScience Institute. Fellows participate in tutorials and workshops covering quantitative and qualitative data science tools, methods and approaches, such as Git and GitHub, coding standards and documentation, machine learning, ethics, human-centered design, and reproducible science. Each team also participates in systematic and sustained engagement with an array of related stakeholders. This year, the program will take place remotely for the second time. The program will also continue to partner with the Micron Foundation with the support of a Micron Advancing Curiosity Award.

This year’s program supports two important projects that address significant and timely social issues.

Green graph over Washington State
A dual graph of the 2010 census blocks for Washington State.

The project “Geography, equity, and the Seattle $15 minimum wage ordinance” is led by Jennie Romich, a Professor of Social Welfare at the UW School of Social Work and Faculty Director of the West Coast Poverty Center. This project examines whether the availability of low-wage workers declined in Seattle from 2014 to 2016, as rental prices were rising significantly just as the city’s $15 minimum wage law took effect, thereby reducing the law’s intended impact to reduce income inequality. The project uses the Washington Merged Longitudinal Administrative Data, which combines multiple state-level data sets, including unemployment records and driver’s license and state ID data, to locate workers geographically and examine employment and earnings outcomes.

The team members are student fellows Lamar Foster, Delaney Glass, Christopher Salazar and Mahader Tamene, and data scientists Jose Hernandez and Valentina Staneva. The team will track residential moves in relation to job locations in the Puget Sound, to better understand whether lower wage earners moved out of the city faster during this period than in other years, or when compared to higher earners, and how their commutes changed as a result. 

The project “Developing Ensemble Methods for Initial Districting Plan Evaluation” is led by Daryl DeFord, an Assistant Professor of Data Analytics in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Washington State University. This project explores new computational and statistical methods to ensure neutrality in the redrawing of voting district maps that occurs once every ten years after the completion of the U.S. Census, and is currently underway. The team members are student fellows Rowana Ahmed, Katherine Chang, Ryan Goehrung and Michael Souffrant, and data scientists Bernease Herman and Vaughn Iverson.

Aerial street view
Photo by Domas Mituzas, Creative Commons

This project addresses both methodological and legislative efforts to reform state-based redistricting practices to prevent gerrymandering, or the improper drawing of legislative boundaries for unfair political advantage. The research team will explore criteria for evaluating and challenging boundary designations in proposed maps, and conduct analyses tailored to individual states’ geographies, redistricting rules, and legislative and litigation histories.

For the second year, the DSSG is able to provide the Micron Opportunity Award to DSSG students who require additional financial support to participate in the program. The generous support from Micron has enabled us to support student fellow stipends and resources for remote work. “At Micron Technology, our vision is transforming how the world uses information to enrich life for all. Micron is thrilled to support the DSSG program and the participation of a diverse cohort of student fellows as they demonstrate innovative data science and interdisciplinary methods to tackle pressing societal challenges,” said Erik Byers, Micron Technology VP of Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) and Emerging Memory Process Development.

Visit the eScience website to learn more about this year’s DSSG projects and participants. The program will conclude with project presentations to a public audience on Wednesday, August 18th from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. Pacific. Additional information will be available later this summer.