Rob Mitchum

Program seeks fellows, mentors and partners

After a successful first summer, in which aspiring data scientists from around the world completed innovative data and analytics projects with non-profit and government partners, the Eric & Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship will return with a new class of fellows, mentors and project partners in 2014.

The announcement was made Nov. 12 at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s “From Data to Knowledge to Action: Building New Partnerships” event. The fellowship is one of several featured programs responding to the Obama Administration’s call to foster regional innovation and harness the power of data to advance national goals in education, health care, energy and other areas.

The Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship is a University of Chicago program funded by The Schmidt Family Foundation. In 2013, its first year, the fellowship brought 40 undergraduate and graduate students with computer science, statistics and quantitative social science backgrounds to Chicago to work on 12 projects with 20 partners from the non-profit and public sectors.

Organizations such as the city of Chicago, Cook County, NorthShore University HealthSystem, Nurse-Family Partnership, Mesa Public Schools, Ushahidi and the Chicago Transit Authority provided the fellows with data and domain expertise throughout the summer.

“The fellows went from thinking of a project as a technical problem and a data set to the actual people and issues behind them and the social impact,” said fellowship director Rayid Ghani, a researcher at the Computation Institute and Harris School of Public Policy and former chief scientist of the Obama for America campaign. “I think that’s what’s needed to create a new community of data scientists passionate about solving real-world problems and making the world better.”

Over 12 weeks, experienced mentors from industry and academia led teams of fellows in developing prototypes for reducing bus crowding, identifying students at risk of missing college opportunities, predicting cardiac arrests in hospital patients, and several other solutions that will help the project partners do more with their data in the future.

“This fellowship is a leading example of a fruitful partnership between the city of Chicago and a strong academic program that encourages students with deep analytic skills to address some of the city’s most pressing problems,” said Brenna Berman, commissioner and chief information officer for Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology. “Some teams leveraged publicly available data in conjunction with more detailed data from city agencies to produce significant research and solutions for the Department of Transportation and the Department of Streets and Sanitation, further exemplifying the advantages of the city’s open government program and data portal.”

“I was thrilled to partner with the Eric & Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good Fellowship to help us kick-start what will be the backbone of the Cook County Land Bank’s mission—access to smart and timely data,” said Bridget Gainer, Cook County commissioner and chairman of the Cook County Land Bank, the largest land bank in the country.

“The Cook County Land Bank fellows provided invaluable analytical tools that will help us return thousands of vacant and abandoned properties back into productive and sustainable community assets.”

For the 2014 program, the fellowship is seeking fellows, mentors and project partners in areas such as education, health care, energy, transportation and public safety. Due to interest from other universities and cities in running similar programs next summer, the fellowship also will conduct a workshop on Nov. 14-15 in Chicago to recap what was learned over the summer and to help others organize similar programs in the future.

For more information about the workshop, or to sign up for a notification when 2014 applications are available, visit and click “Get Involved,” or contact the program at