Starting next semester, students of COM and the Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences (CDS) will collaborate on computational journalism projects for media outlets on public interest topics,thanks to a grant award from New America’s Public Interest Technology University Network Challenge.

The award will fund BU’s new Justice Media Computational co-Lab, a course (XCC 433) to prepare the next generation of data-driven investigative reporters in service of the public interest. Faculty see the Justice Media Computational co-Lab modeling its work on projects such as The Color of Public Money, an investigation by GBH News, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, BU Spark!, and CDS students that collected 10 years of state procurement data to understand the share of contracts going to minority-owned businesses in Massachusetts. The project led to a multipart series airing on GBH radio and action by Gov. Charlie Baker.

“We accomplish so much when we come together,” said Brooke Williams, associate professor of the practice in computational journalism and the course instructor. “I can’t wait to be a part of this interdisciplinary lab and work with students to report and publish, data-driven news investigations with real impact in the world.”

Students in the co-lab will be supported by BU Spark!, now based at the Faculty for Computing & Data Sciences and leading their efforts to bring students innovation and applied learning experiences in interdisciplinary computing and data science.

New America also awarded grant support for the CDS Impact Lab on Equity to support research programs as well as “curricular and co-curricular experiential learning opportunities as they relate to addressing issues of inequality including race, gender and sexual identity, physical and mental ability, and ethnicity and immigrant status,” according to CDS.

The Impact Lab on Equity will connect faculty, students and partners outside of the university, following the success of a project brought to BU Spark! by a Massachusetts legislator that evaluated demographics, cost, and ridership of bus routes to assess the cost-benefit of free buses routes to support low-income riders.

The creation of the two labs marks the first major step forward for Data Science for Good, an initiative anchored in CDS, which leverages the expertise in BU’s 17 schools and colleges to engage undergraduate and graduate students in experiential learning endeavors.

The awards come one year after BU joined the Public Interest Technology University Network, a consortium of 36 universities and funders convened by New America and committed to building and growing a new generation of civic-minded technologists. The network and challenge grants are funded by the Ford Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, Mastercard Impact Fund, with support from the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, The Raikes Foundation, Schmidt Futures and The Siegel Family Endowment.

Founded in 2019, the Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences is a university-wide, degree-granting academic unit comprising scholars and researchers in core and applied areas of computing, computational, and data-driven inquiry. Spark! is the set of student pathways in CDS which cover various aspects of experiential learning, including product innovation, interdisciplinary computational and data-driven projects, and discrete skill-building initiatives.

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