Introducing the Data Science For Social Good 2022 Projects

By: Louisa Gaylord and Emily Keller-O’Donnell

On June 13th, the University of Washington’s Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) summer program began with sixteen student fellows working on four 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 and policy, data analytics, applied mathematics, social sciences, AI, engineering, psychology, and more.

Data Science for Social Good, which began in 2015, welcomes project leads from academia, public agencies, nonprofits and industry to guide teams through the ten-week program run by the eScience Institute. Student 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, data 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 have two in-person teams and two remote teams. 

All teams will be supported by Bernease Herman, Data Scientist At-Large, and Human-Centered Data Science Research Associate Dharma Dailey. This year’s program supports several important projects that address significant and timely social issues:

house surrounded by treesThe project “Heating Loads in Alaska and Beyond” is led by Erin Trochim, a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Alaska Center for Energy and Power.  Decarbonization is a critical global issue where planning and executing implementation strategies is currently regionally underway. In the Arctic, there is extra urgency and complexity as warming is occurring twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Developing better estimates of heating needs is important for navigating decarbonization pathways, including weighing the role of building energy efficiency and centralized vs. decentralized approaches. This project hopes to create an improved method for estimating thermal energy use in Arctic regions which can be used as part of decarbonization planning including the Railbelt Decarbonization Pathways project, and to develop a process scalable to Alaska and the pan-Arctic for inclusion in the Arctic Energy Atlas.

This team includes student fellows Vidisha Chowdhury, Madelyn Gaumer, Philippe Schicker, and Shamsi Soltani, who will collaborate with eScience Institute Data Science Postdoctoral Fellow Nick Bolten.

The project “Tracking family and intergenerational poverty using administrative data” 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 will examine whether the Seattle $15 minimum wage policy reduced poverty or affected intergenerational economic mobility.  Policymakers and advocates believe that increasing the hourly earnings of the lowest-paid workers will address income inequality, reduce poverty, and increase well-being for workers and their families. The team hopes to develop and test different definitions of household, and to use these household definitions to test whether Seattle’s $15 minimum wage policy reduced household poverty.

This team includes student fellows Zhaowen Guo, Ihsan Kahveci, Betelhem Aklilu Muno, and Eliot Stanton, who will work with data scientist Jessica Godwin, Statistical Demographer and Training Director at the UW Center for Studies in Demography & Ecology (CSDE).

satellite image
The background image shows the double star Albireo in Cygnus and was taken on 26 December 2019. Two out of ten 2.5-minute exposures recorded Starlink satellites moving across the field.

The project “Preserving Our Skies by Quantifying Streaks in Astronomical Images” is led by Meredith Rawls, research scientist in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Washington and the Institute for Data Intensive Research in Astrophysics And Cosmology (DiRAC); and Dino Bektešević, UW Astronomy graduate student. Low Earth orbit satellites leave bright streaks in telescope images and impact our ability to observe and analyze astrophysical phenomena from Earth. They also impact traditional and cultural practices centered on the night sky. The pace of satellite launches is increasing, meanwhile, the scope of the impacts are not well constrained. The team’s research aims to quantify the impacts of bright satellites on astronomy investigations, and to contribute to the international effort to mitigate impacts of satellite constellations on all sky observers.

This team includes student fellows Abhilash Biswas, Kilando Chambers, Ben Pitler, and Ashley Santos, who will collaborate with eScience Senior Research Scientist Vaughn Iverson.

Outlines of a house, short, umbrella, bike, car, etc.

The project “Exploring the cost of living using the Self-Sufficiency Standard database” is led by Lisa Manzer, Director of the Center for Women’s Welfare at the UW School of Social Work; and Annie Kucklick, Research Coordinator at the Center for Women’s Welfare. The Self-Sufficiency Standard is currently used by a number of agencies and service providers across the country to understand issues of income inadequacy, create and analyze policy, and help individuals striving to meet their basic needs. However, the Standard’s aim to be a suitable and more widely used replacement to the Official Poverty Measure (OPM) cannot be realized without the ability to host each state’s data in a single database. Having this national resource for the first time would allow community partners to access historical trends, research regional comparisons, and provide a framework for analyses—something frequently requested by stakeholders.

This team includes student fellows Aziza Mirsaidova, Priyana Patel, Cheng Ren, and Hector Joel Sosa, who will work with eScience Senior Research Scientist Bryna Hazelton.

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 in August, and additional information will be available later this summer.