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Yunyun Wang ’20 awarded national fellowship

Yunyun Wang ’20, a double major in the College of Arts and Sciences and in the College of Engineering, has been named a Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities committed to the public purposes of higher education.

Yunyun Wang

The Newman Civic Fellowship, in its 10th year, honors students who engage with others to create long-term social change, take action to address issues of inequality and demonstrate a potential for civic engagement.

“At a university with a founding public-engagement mission, where thousands of students engage with diverse communities each year, Yunyun stands out as someone with the skills, motivation and potential for effecting long-term positive change,” said President Martha E. Pollack in her letter nominating Wang for the fellowship.

Wang – who majors in government and in information science, systems and technology – also is a Meinig Family Cornell National Scholar, an honor given to students showing extraordinary potential for development as leaders at Cornell.

Wang enrolled at Cornell as an engineering major, but said she always wanted a liberal arts education. That led her to pursue another degree, in government.

“I came from a pretty conservative, small town in Southern Virginia,” she said. “I was looking to venture out, to challenge my perspective about a lot of things.” 

Wang said she is also concerned about science disinformation. To address that concern, she began a podcast, “State of the Pod,” which focuses on a science issue and its “underlying societal, ethical implications,” she said.

Episodes have dealt with the politicization of climate change, stem cell research and campus vaping trends.

“As a scientist, and as someone who studies government, the issue for me has always been, ‘Why aren’t these fields more connected?’” Wang said. “That’s what led me to start the podcast.”

In her application to the Newman Civic fellowship, she wrote about bias issues in algorithms, specifically in facial recognition technology, reflecting her interest in tech policy. “What we know,” she said, “is that due to limited data sets and training, [facial recognition] is going to be less accurate for understanding women and people of color.”

Wang hopes to go into policymaking to enhance algorithmic accountability and combat this issue.

As a Campus Compact member institution, Cornell can nominate one student to be a Newman Civic Fellow each year. Units in the Engaged Cornell Hub organized the nomination process, and Pollack nominated Wang.

In recognition of this fellowship, Cornell is providing funding for Wang, including a $1,500 award, an additional $1,500 award for a community partner and up to $2,000 for travel to three Campus Compact meetings.

Wang plans to use the financial award to buy equipment and resources for her podcast and for a high school mentorship program. The mentorship program brings students from Ithaca High School and Cornell together to trace the origins of science disinformation. Wang is working with two students to analyze the history of the anti-vaccination movement.

Alisha Gupta is a communications assistant for the College of Arts & Sciences.

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Abby Butler