Sewanee DataLab Aims to Make A Difference In Communities


The University of the South welcomes students and faculty to campus this week for the first-ever Sewanee DataLab. Participants will study data analysis in a public interest context during the eight-week program—tackling social and environmental problems by leveraging available data. Working with concrete data sets to address needs of partner organizations, the program expects to make a measurable impact while training students and faculty from a range of academic disciplines.

The new program is a collaboration between the university’s Office of Civic Engagement, Career Center, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, and Sewanee’s Integrated Program in the Environment. Funded by a grant from innovative think tank New America, the DataLab at Sewanee breaks ground in higher education. The university is the only traditional liberal arts college supporting New America’s Public Interest Technology University Network that is developing a career path for undergraduates in data science for the public good.

“Long the purview of the technically talented, the power of data analytics remains easily accessible only to for-profit enterprises. The University of the South seeks to change this model fundamentally with Sewanee DataLab,” said DataLab Director Dr. Matthew Rudd. “This new program tackles immediate social problems while providing hands-on training for students, academics, and professionals using concrete social projects and real-life data sets—training participants while positively affecting communities near and far.”

Community partner organizations working locally, regionally, and internationally have offered data sets and problems for the Sewanee DataLab. Examples include:

The Haiti Institute in Sewanee has requested an effective way to know how much carbon is captured by trees in a rural village in Haiti. Sewanee will use this data to calculate and predict carbon offset fees. This project both supports the village and protects the environment.

The Thrive Regional Partnership fosters responsible growth in the tri-state Chattanooga region. It has asked DataLab to develop a public-facing geospatial web application that catalogs current broadband assets in the region. This platform will support efforts to address gaps in broadband access, especially in the rural areas surrounding Chattanooga.

The South Cumberland Health Network seeks to determine how the community uses emergency rooms to treat medical conditions that are treatable in a primary care setting. The project will offer data on patterns of local access to primary care, which will support advocacy for increased local access to primary care clinics on the South Cumberland Plateau.

In addition to working on data analysis projects provided by community partner organizations, the Sewanee Datalab will also sponsor a series of talks throughout the summer. Guest speakers are practitioners in the emerging field of data science for the social good. Follow the DataLab on social media to stay informed: @sewaneedatalab.