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Carnegie Mellon University Faculty Awarded Grants to Advance the Field of Public Interest Technology

CMU professors will spearhead projects on policy innovation and socially responsible language technologies

PITTSBURGH, PA. – Two Carnegie Mellon University faculty members, Christopher Goranson and Yulia Tsvetkov, have each received grants of $90,000 from the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN).

Goranson, distinguished service professor in the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, and Tsvetkov, an assistant professor in the Language Technologies Institute (LTI) of the School of Computer Science, were two of 27 awardees in the inaugural PIT-UN “Network Challenge.” The program supports the development of new public interest technology initiatives and institutions in academia, and fosters collaboration among the network’s partner institutions, which includes CMU.

The projects supported by these awards will continue the university’s leadership in the development of the public interest technology, a broadly defined and emerging area of study that combines digital innovation and public policy.

Policy Innovation Lab Starter Kit

Goranson leads the Policy Innovation Lab (PIL) course, a new initiative that connects students with actual policy challenges and introduces an agile, design-driven framework to rapidly create solutions to those challenges. For Fall 2019, PIL is co-taught with Karen Lightman, Executive Director of Metro21: Smart Cities Institute. From improving transportation wayfinding to improving local government transparency, students are investigating smart city policy challenges and building policy-driven prototypes shaped by user research. 

The course emphasizes an agile methodology, citizen-centered design and open-source as essential components of effective policy implementation to deliver products and services that have the potential to live beyond the course. The course is intended to prepare aspiring public interest technologists for careers in government service.

“This course gives our students the opportunity to work directly with external partners to experiment in building better government services and policies in ways that can make government work better for people” said Goranson.

“We also hope this will help our students connect with government agencies who are leading the way in adopting transformative digital service models and consider working in government. We hope the PIL Starter Kit will help our PIT-UN partners pilot similar experiential coursework that will ultimately lead to better government policies and services for all in the future."

New America awarded Goranson a grant of nearly $90,000 to develop an open-access, open-source starter kit and fellowship program that formalizes the PIL course framework. The starter kit will help PIT-UN member universities train future public interest technologists by adopting coursework that encourages rapid experimentation, novel approaches, and viable solutions that meet the needs of end users. By enabling the creation of programs modeled after Heinz College’s PIL, PIT-UN will channel top talent into the field of public interest technology.

All artifacts, code, and research created through the PIL programs will be available on Github and Canvas to further contribute intellectual resources and best practices to the shared benefit of all PIT-UN member universities.

Socially Responsible Language Technologies

New America also awarded a $90,000 grant to Tsvetkov for a project that aims to bridge the ethical gap in computer science education by enhancing competency across institutions to teach socially responsible language technologies.

Tsvetkov, along with LTI Prof. Alan Black, teaches an SCS course in computational ethics, which introduces students to real-world language technology applications while addressing ethical implications and risks posed by language technology and other artificial intelligence (AI) tools.

“Billions of citizens use social media, email, and text messaging platforms built upon language technologies. These tools have become increasingly prevalent in data analysis, providing services on the Web, even providing means for disaster response,” said Tsvetkov. “But there is also a growing awareness about the negative side: bias in AI tools learned from user-generated data, pervasiveness of hate speech, propaganda, and fake news.”

The dual nature of language technology is at the core of Tsvetkov’s coursework, educating students about the positive and negative impacts of such technologies and how to view those impacts through an ethical lens. Through her course, Tsvetkov hopes to better equip the next generation of AI engineers and public interest technologists to make conscious, ethical decisions.

The award will help to expand the course for both graduate and undergraduate students and to develop open-access educational materials including video lectures and slides, lecture notes, assignments, creation of a textbook, and sample course projects.



About Carnegie Mellon University

About Carnegie Mellon University: Carnegie Mellon ( is a private, internationally ranked research university with programs in areas ranging from science, technology and business, to public policy, the humanities and the arts. More than 14,000 students in the university’s seven schools and colleges benefit from a small student-to-faculty ratio and an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems,  interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation. 

About the Public Interest Technology University Network

The Public Interest Technology University Network (PITUN), which was convened earlier this year by the Ford Foundation, New America, and the Hewlett Foundation, is a partnership of 21 colleges and universities dedicated to building the nascent field of public interest technology, as well as growing a new generation of civic-minded technologists and digitally fluent policy leaders. The “Network Challenge” is funded through the generous support of the Ford Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, Mastercard Impact Fund, Siegel Family Endowment, Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, Schmidt Futures, and Raikes Foundation. Colleges and universities that are interested in joining the Public Interest Technology University Network can contact New America ( for more information about membership.