Data policy program boosts high school students

This spring, more than 100 underserved high schoolers in New York, Florida and Michigan participated in an expanded online data policy and analysis program, in which they explored pressing policy issues such as income inequality, racial justice and climate change through economic and sociological lenses.

The program – developed by eCornell, the School of Continuing Education (SCE) and the nonprofit National Education Equity Lab (NEEL) – was led by Maria Fitzpatrick and Matthew Hall, both professors in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management, in the College of Human Ecology. In examining important issues – including education equity and COVID-19 – students sought to determine how big data is being used to address policy problems in the United States and across the globe. 

Students had the opportunity to learn directly from Cornell faculty via virtual office hours, lab sessions and one-on-one facetime.

“Maria Fitzpatrick and Matthew Hall have been forces of nature in providing transformational opportunities to students who need it most,” said Leslie Cornfeld, NEEL’s founder and CEO.

During a closing ceremony May 26, Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff praised the high school scholars for their achievements, saying he was proud of Cornell’s leadership in this effort with the Equity Lab as it reflects Cornell’s commitment to equity, access and opportunity.

Fitzpatrick called the program “one of the best teaching experiences of my career.”

Last summer, eCornell and NEEL piloted a high school program with Donna Haeger, professor of practice in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, based on Haeger’s popular on-campus spreadsheet modeling courses. To expand the collaboration, this spring eCornell and SCE worked with NEEL to offer a three-credit online undergraduate course, Big Data for Big Policy Problems (PAM 270).

Many of the 16 schools participating in the high school program signed on to provide supervising teachers, who coached and helped all students with time management. NEEL provided a Chromebook to any student without access to a laptop.

“Cornell University’s leadership is a national model for what selective universities can accomplish in the education justice space,” Cornfeld said.

“With this expansion, Cornell has powerfully demonstrated their commitment to racial and economic justice. They’re not just talking the talk. That commitment should make current and future students, as well as alumni, proud of their alma mater.”

One such future student is Melanie Lantigua, a high school student from the Bronx who successfully completed the course and will be attending Cornell this fall as a first-generation student.

“I hope Cornell continues to offer opportunities like this to scholars in underserved high schools across the nation,” Lantigua said during the ceremony. “We need opportunities like this to show colleges – and ourselves – what we can do.”

Jamie Bonan ’18 is a content marketing specialist at eCornell.

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Abby Butler