Analytics and Public Policy Students Win 2017 Deloitte Foundation Fellowship

Analytics students have teamed up with McCourt School of Public Policy students to win the 2017 Deloitte Foundation Data Analytics Fellowship. Tiankai Guo, Ruhan Wang (both MS Analytics), Andre Lee (Master in International Development Policy), and Tommie Thompson (Master in Public Policy) met while participating in the Deloitte Core Consulting Series.

Their project “Can For-Profit Universities Mold Democratic Citizens: Higher Education’s Impact on Civic Engagement” will quantitatively compare for-profit and non-profit universities with respect to the amount of civic engagement they engender. The proposal contends that American philosophers John Dewey and Robert Hutchins believed that the university’s role is to produce civic-minded citizens, and would argue with today’s view of the university as a means to prepare students for the labor force. Says team member Thompson, “Because of this belief, I find the rise in the for-profit university sector — a sector exclusively concerned with providing technical skills and acquiring profit — worrisome. I want to better understand if for-profit institutions are a threat to our civic culture, and the resources of the Deloitte program make it possible to test these concerns rigorously.”

The project compares the level of civic engagement by graduates from for-profit universities with their counterparts from non-profit universities. The goal is to determine whether these different types of institutions produce citizens with different levels of civic engagement. “Rather than comparing employment outcomes between universities … it would be novel and exciting to think about other ‘measures of success.’ We are searching data that hits on potential volunteer activity; for example, voting, volunteering, and working in public service,” says Guo.

Lee believes this type of project demands interdisciplinary collaboration between Analytics and Public Policy. He says, “We've learned that data analytics is both a science and an art,” and goes on to note that the team members can “play to each others' strengths and shore up each others' weaknesses” while learning from each other. “The value of having members from both different schools is the presence of such unique perspectives.”

Wang also points to the strengths of the interdisciplinary team, saying, “Policy people know a lot about education systems and democracy, while analytics students have weapons such as text mining and machine learning” to guide technical analysis. She notes that working in an interdisciplinary team will “help us realize and deal with the difference between ourselves.”

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