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Public Service Weekend Goes Virtual

CMU moved its Public Service Weekend online this summer—providing impactful experiences to future public interest leaders. Now in its fifth year, Public Service Weekend was co-sponsored by the PPIA program and NASPAA, with support from New America’s Public Interest Technology University Network.

Even before the pandemic, the field of Public Interest Technology (PIT)—an important and rapidly growing field which applies data, analytics and technology to problems in government and the public interest—was expanding across the nation. Now, the potential of technology and effective government to further the public good is clearer than ever. PIT was the focus of this year’s Public Service Weekend (PSW), which was held in an online environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College hosted over 70 talented undergraduate students from across the country for its first-ever virtual PSW.

Over the five-day conference, participants heard keynotes from leaders in PIT, including Afua Bruce, Chief Program Officer of Datakind; Amanda Renteria, CEO of Code for America; as well as professors who are making waves in this space such as Robert Hampshire of the University of Michigan’s Ford School.

Not only did I had a great time at every session with every panelist, but I was able to discover a side of public policy that I wasn't familiar with. Maria Alejandra Achury, Baruch College

The PSW conference was envisioned to create a pipeline for students from diverse and underserved backgrounds to graduate education and careers in public policy and international affairs. This vision aligns perfectly with the PIT field, which broadly seeks to makes government more transparent, responsive, and inclusive.

“We were pleased to be able to adapt the delivery of this important conference to bring together such an impressive group of undergraduate students, and share our knowledge and networks with these future leaders,” said Ramayya Krishnan, Dean of Heinz College. “When crafting public policy and related technology solutions, it’s vital to bring diverse voices to the table. Public Service Weekend aims to identify students who bring unique life experiences and perspectives, and introduce them to career paths where they can make a difference.”

Heinz College’s Virtual PSW was set up to encourage the participants to think big. In addition to keynotes and professional sessions, the students participated in a workshop on policy innovation and “moonshot thinking,” led by Heinz College professor Chris Goranson and Smita Satiani from X, the Moonshot Factory (formerly Google X). The following day, an expert panel—which included Heinz College professor Dan Nagin and Charlottesville, VA Chief of Police RaShall Brackney (MPM ’11)—gave thorough background on the problem of policing reform in the United States and the use of data and technology in the policing context.

After those two sessions, the students participated in a “Policy Hack-a-thon,” a team exercise to apply moonshot thinking to policing reform and come up with creative solutions. These solutions were presented to the conference and judged by a panel of experts. Three projects stood out:

  • Police Reform: A solution based on – Diversity, Demilitarization, Destigmatization, Data-driven
  • BlueRate: Accountable Police Empowered Community
  • Community-Focused Training: Reshaping Civilian-Police Relationships in Louisville, Kentucky

While the virtual conference was quite different from the typical PSW, which has traditionally convened in Washington, D.C. each summer, the experience was memorable and impactful for participants.

I had no idea before this weekend what PIT was, what a Master’s in Public Policy looked like, or what graduate school could mean for me. It was amazing to have such a meaningful virtual experience. I loved the keynote speakers, group discussions, hack-a-thon, and most of all I loved meeting new people and learning about new ways of thinking. Lia Van Steeter, University of Puget Sound

Participants in the conference were rising juniors and seniors from universities across the U.S., and were selected in a competitive admissions process.

In addition to the virtual PSW, Heinz College is home to Public Policy and International Affairs Program (PPIA) Junior Summer Institute (JSI) program. The PPIA-JSI is a national fellowship program that prepares students for an advanced degree and ultimately for careers and influential roles serving the public good. The program is a rigorous seven-week training offered each summer for rising college seniors, with coursework focused on quantitative, analytical, and communication skills

Heinz College also hosted the Data Science for Social Good Fellowship this summer, which trains aspiring data scientists to work on machine learning, data science, and AI projects with social impact in a fair and equitable manner. The DSSG Fellowship is organized at CMU by the Data Science for Social Good Foundation, which also hosts DSSG Solve for Good, an online platform for organizations to describe and seek help on data intensive projects.

Learn more about the PPIA program

Learn more about PIT at Carnegie Mellon