Data community connects at year-end celebration

By Briana Wipf

If you do a Google search for “computer scientists,” the result – as of this writing – is a long line of photos of white people.

The Black Voices in Computing project hopes to change this perception – that there are no Black computer scientists. With funding from the Year of Data and Society, they are on the path doing that.

Janet Majekodunmi and Shailey Gulrajani, both juniors in the School of Computing and Information, are involved in the project, which also includes Kylie Dougherty, Dmitriy Babichenko, Chelsea Gunn and Rosta Farzan.

“We want to highlight the accomplishments,” of Black computer scientists, explained Majekodunmi, a computer science major.

The group plans on presenting the Black computer scientists in an interactive, augmented reality exhibit that will be located at SCI.

“It’s very inspiring to learn about different scholars and different fields,” said Gulrajani, an information science major. “It’s nice to see the diversity.”

The group working on the Black Voices in Computing project presented their work in a lightning talk session on Friday, April 8, during the Celebration of the Year of Data and Society, an event held jointly online and in-person in the University Club at the University of Pittsburgh.

In addition to the lightning talks, the celebration event also included two panels. One focused on teaching students about data, and the other looked at sustaining impact of digital projects. A poster session wrapped up the afternoon.

"Panel of five individuals discusses teaching projects"
Veena Vasudevan, third from left, discusses her educational project while, from left, Sera Thornton, Na-Rae Han, Bob Gradeck, and Uchenna Mbawuike listen. The group participated in a panel at the Year of Data and Society’s celebration titled “Facilitating Student Learning about Data at Pitt” on April 8.

The Year of Data and Society is part of the “year of...” initiative funded through the Office of the Provost.

According to Nora Mattern, the chair of the Year of Data and Society steering committee, the goal of the year was to build a community interested in “engaging with the societal implications of data and socially responsible data practices.”

That goal was very much realized, Mattern explained, and it was on display at Friday’s event.

“I’m watching conversations happening and people seeing themselves in other people’s work,” Mattern commented as people milled about the upstairs ballroom at the University Club.

Indeed, the funded projects were a testament to the interest across a variety of school and disciplines at Pitt, with faculty, students, and projects at regional campuses receiving funding.

“It’s not the case that we don’t have this community at Pitt...This work is happening at a number of places across the university,” Mattern said.

One of the presenters during the poster session was Jenn Chai, a PharmD candidate, who shared information about her project, PittPharmacy Global Health Day, which educated other students about research ethics and the data behind global health decisions.

"Jenn Chai presents her poster "Pitt Pharmacy Global Health Day""
Jenn Chai explains her project Pitt Pharmacy Global Health Day to an audience during the Year of Data and Society’s celebration on April 8. Chai, a PharmD candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, received funding from the Year of Data and Society to undertake the project.

Chai said she got interested in learning more about research ethics because she was learning about the guidelines of ethics but not the “why” behind the guidelines. After researching the history of pharmacy, she discovered some of the answers to her questions and thought others might like to know too.

She organized the PittPharmacy Global Health Day, which featured a keynote presentation and interactive learning activity that taught participants how data impacts global public health.

This is Chai’s first funded project, and she said she was happy with how it was received.

As the Year of Data and Society wraps up – there are a few events still to come in April and even this summer – Mattern said that it’s clear that the goal of creating community has occurred.

She and the rest of the steering committee hope to keep the momentum going. They built in the work of sustaining impact into the steering committee’s responsibilities and have concrete plans to make that happen.

“We saw over the year that people across the university really felt a connection to this topic,” she said. “This event made the community visible.”

"students participate in "Art and Data" table"
Adam Nie, right, a current master’s of public administration student, and Emmaline Rial, an incoming master’s of public administration student, draw the route they took to get to Pitt that day during the Year of Data and Society’s celebration on April 8. This activity was part of an "Art and Data" table.