DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > Metropolitan Chicago Data-science Corps

Data-science Corps helps nonprofits turn data into knowledge

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Students and faculty will help community groups and nonprofits address data challenges in the areas of the environment, health and social well-being. (
Five Illinois universities, including DePaul, have established the Metropolitan Chicago Data-science Corps to help meet the data science needs of the Chicago metropolitan area. Teams of undergraduate students and expert faculty mentors will work with communities and nonprofit organizations to tackle data challenges.

“Data science can be very abstract and overwhelming to students and nonprofits alike,” says Mark Potosnak, a professor and chair of environmental science and studies at DePaul. “This project will engage students who have been underserved in terms of data science education. At the same time, we will assist community partners and give students real world applications within their chosen fields of study.”

The MCDC program plans to work across various domains, including health sciences, environmental sciences or social sciences. The city of Chicago, Cook County, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Howard Brown Health and The Nature Conservancy are among the organizations the MCDC will work with as community partners.

“Many of our students have witnessed health inequities. They know about asthma and air quality, and they’ve seen heavy traffic thumping through their neighborhoods,” Potosnak says. “Students will learn to take those observations and turn them into numbers. Then they will work with a community partner who’s struggling with the same issues.”

Potosnak is one of 11 co-directors on the MCDC team. Other DePaul faculty contributing to the project are Daniela Stan Raicu in the School of Computing, Sungsoon "Julie" Hwang in the Department of Geography, and Philip Yates in Department of Mathematical Sciences. The team will also work with Howard Rosing in the Steans Center to leverage existing community partnerships.

In addition to DePaul, the partner universities are Northwestern, Northeastern Illinois and Chicago State, and the School of Information Sciences, known as iSchool, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The corps will be supported by a new grant from the National Science Foundation of nearly $1.5 million over three years. The project is part of the NSF’s Harnessing the Data Revolution Big Idea, which is a national-scale effort to accelerate discovery and innovation.

“Data science corps programs are expected to enable new modes of data-driven discovery and allow nonprofit organizations to transform data into actionable knowledge for social good,” Raicu says.

Requests for data services are now being accepted from nonprofit and governmental organizations in the metropolitan Chicago area. Data challenges in the areas of the environment, health and social well-being are of particular interest to the corps.

“Despite a global pandemic, we have seen our region’s technology industry flourish — an achievement that is undoubtedly thanks to dynamic partnerships forged between our incredible city and state universities,” says Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “The MCDC is the latest of such partnerships. It will deepen our regional strength in data science while simultaneously enhancing how nonprofit organizations and government bodies utilize data-driven programs to strengthen our communities.”

DePaul faculty working on the project will begin incorporating it into classes this winter, with field projects slated for the summer of 2022. In the third year of the grant, the MCDC plans work with faculty at a city college and a community college to implement its curriculum there, further expanding data science education in metropolitan Chicago.

For more information, visit the MCDC website.

Kristin Claes Mathews is the assistant director of news and integrated content for University Marketing and Communications.