Data Science for Social Impact in Higher Education:  First Steps

Historically Black Colleges and Universities

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Student Profiles




First Year M.S. Applied Data Science students at Howard University who has engaged with the HELLO BLACK WORLD (HBW) Curriculum.

Howard University

Story of the course

At Howard University, a Historically Black College and University, comprising 14 schools and colleges, students come from all over the United States and the world with myriad cultural backgrounds, gender expressions, and abilities. Howard ranks among the highest producers of the nation’s Black professionals in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, engineering, nursing, architecture, religion, law, music, social work, and education. The University has long held a commitment to the study of disadvantaged persons in American society and throughout the world. The goal is the elimination of inequities related to race, color, social, economic, and political circumstances. As the only truly comprehensive predominantly Black university, Howard is one of the major engineers of change in our society. Through its traditional and cutting-edge academic programs, the University seeks to improve the circumstances of all people in the search for peace and justice on earth.

In response to the imperative of preparing individuals to champion social justice and uphold human liberty, the HELLO BLACK WORLD (HBW) curriculum emerged. As an Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Director of the Data Science program, Dr. Yeboah Quarkume recognized the necessity to foster an educational space where students of African descent perceive themselves as pivotal data points capable of addressing pressing contemporary issues. This curriculum empowers them to harness the tools of data science, a practice deeply entrenched within the historical contributions of people of African descent across centuries.

The HELLO BLACK WORLD (HBW) initiative encapsulates a holistic vision, mindset, and objectives. The original logos, expertly crafted by Michale Robinson, comprise two fundamental symbols: 1. an arrow denoting a new direction in data and technology, accompanied by an open hand resembling the Black Power fist, signifying the imperative to code with an inclusive and open approach; 2. features a face with an afro, symbolizing the opportunity for learners to connect with the data context and see themselves represented. Combined, we look to change the face of data and tech and chart new directions. 

The ethos of HBW revolves around providing learners with access and pathways to join the community of developers, creators, and knowledge producers in the data and tech domain. Lastly, the agenda in the five-course offerings includes acquiring proficiency in a coding language, understanding ethics in data and tech, exploring spatial data, managing data effectively, and gaining hands-on experience to leverage data for social impact.

Inspiration to start the course

In the field of STEM and STEM education, there are pervasive disparities in the representation and engagement of students of African descent within the realms of data and computer science education. Historically, these fields have lacked diverse narratives and cultural perspectives, resulting in a disconnect between the subject matter and the lived experiences of underrepresented learners. This disconnect not only hampers the educational journey of these students but also perpetuates a cycle of unequal participation in burgeoning technological disciplines. The inequities that exist in STEM education have an impact on diversity in STEM careers, suggesting that a lack of a comprehensive STEM curriculum can limit future career options for students. As data science continues to grow quickly, the education gap must be closed or we will see more disparity across the field.

Course Example

A-ha Moment

light bulb

Coding serves as the entry point to the data and computer science industry, and once we overcome that initial hurdle, the digital realm unfolds as expansively as the natural world.

Student Profile

Jeremiah Lowther

a sophomore and member of the inaugural cohort of the Morehouse Community Data Fellowship who has completed Morehouse College research modules

Morehouse College

Inspiration to start the course

At Morehouse College, the nation’s only liberal arts college founded for Black men, the implementation of data science courses has required that we consider both the historical content of work that preceded the recent rise in data science discourses and the current needs of students and the interests of faculty. As one example from the early 1900s, we engage the data scientific work of well-known scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, the first African American to receive a Ph.D. Du Bois was a faculty member at the neighboring Atlanta University (now known as Clark Atlanta University) and his research was conducted in partnership with communities and students. His work, far ahead of its time, played an integral role in the design and development of courses, and modules at the College.

Course Example

A-ha Moment

light bulb

Local community organizations, such as youth centers, churches, and social support providers, are not always readily available to serve as partners. These partnerships require care and time, and they are not the work of faculty and students in silos. In our local contexts, one a-ha moment was to have the college community, and especially administrators and faculty leaders, consider the historical role that an institution has played in the local community and, by doing so, ensure that reducing harm, purpose, and resource sharing are key to developing collaborations.

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