As Big Tech Faces Scrutiny, 24 Universities Get $3.6M from Major Foundations to Fuel Inclusive Public Interest Technology
University of Michigan Receives Major Philanthropic Grant Funding for Public Interest Technology, A Vote of Confidence to Fuel Inclusive Practices As Movement Expands
Washington, D.C. — As more attention is being paid to the role of technology on public, civic, social, and psychological life in the U.S., there has been a concerted, collaborative, and continued push to expand next-generation technologists, advocates, and policymakers who use technology and technology expertise proactively and transparently to address the most critical problems in the public interest. Today New America announced they have awarded 31 grants totaling $3.61 million dollars to 24 unique Network members. Members of the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN) are collectively seeding the burgeoning field of public interest technology. This round of grantees includes six of the new Network members who joined in 2021. Grants will be used to fund critical research, field building, and the development of an inclusive career pipeline for public interest technologists.
“We have seen what happens when technology that is meant for mass scale audiences, communities, or public citizens of a region, state, or country is designed without their input or considerations for how it might affect them or society at large,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America. “New America’s Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN) was designed to turn that dynamic on its head by making sure that those most proximate to problems are directly present in the crafting of solutions and empowered to do so from an early age. We’re excited to support a new group of grantees that are catalyzing public interest technology on their campus"
"The Public Interest Technology University Network is answering the call to protect our future, our communities, and the institutions that bind us together,” said Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation. “Through public interest technology, these academic institutions have begun to center our collective need for justice, dignity, and autonomy, embedding these values into technological progress. Their graduates will shape technological policies, tools and organizations that will materially improve and transform the lives of all, particularly the most vulnerable.”
University Challenge grants are exclusively available via application to members of PIT-UN, a group of 43 academic institutions committed to bringing students and educators from multiple disciplines together to solve the toughest challenges our country and world face. Over the past two years, PIT-UN members have succeeded in breaking down artificial silos between technology, policy, and the social sciences and humanities in service of equity, justice, and social good.
“With nearly $12 million in grants awarded since the Challenge’s inception, this year’s crop of grantees continue to reaffirm our commitment to a sociotechnical education that puts humans at the center,” said Andreen Soley, Director, PIT-UN. “These 31 projects prioritize connecting in class learning with their real world applications to ensure the safety and security of some of our most vulnerable communities. We hope they serve as models and proofs of concepts for other universities and colleges.”
The grant to the University of Michigan (U-M) was awarded to principal investigator Rebecca Hardin, an associate professor at U-M’s School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS). The grant supports a collaboration between Hardin and a civil and environmental engineering team under the direction of Lutgarde Raskin, a professor at U-M’s College of Engineering. Building on the doctoral research of U-M student Matt Vedrin, with support from the National Science Foundation-funded Midwest Big Data Hub, the project uses U-M’s homegrown open source/open access learning platform learngala.com for data-rich learning tools. In collaboration with SEAS professor Kyle Whyte, partners from the City of Ann arbor, the BlueConduit startup, and U-M’s Blue Sky Initiative for water sector engagement, the team will look toward making responsive low-barrier-to-use learning tools created for classrooms, communities and workforces facing challenges in the monitoring and improvement of quality drinking water distribution systems. These tools can be shared among utilities in cities like Michigan’s Benton Harbor and Flint—and eventually, shared with rural communities and tribal water utilities.
The 24 universities that have been awarded grants this year include:
- Arizona State University Foundation for a New American University
- Case Western Reserve University
- City University of New York
- Cleveland State University Foundation
- Georgia State University Research Foundation
- Georgia Tech Research Corporation, Georgia Institute of Technology
- Harvard University
- Howard University
- Miami Dade College
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Pennsylvania State University
- Rochester Institute of Technology
- San Jose State University
- Stanford University
- The College of William & Mary
- The George Washington University
- The Ohio State University
- The University of California, Santa Cruz
- The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York
- The University of the South
- Trustees of Boston University
- University of Michigan
- University of Pennsylvania
- University of Washington
Arizona State University, which is co-hosting 2021’s virtual convening of the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN) meeting where new grantees were publicly announced, expressed additional support for the work the network is championing.
“The issues facing society are growing rapidly in complexity and the design strategies needed to advance meaningful solutions for the public good must be equally sophisticated and creative,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “As an emerging National Service University, ASU assumes fundamental responsibility for the comprehensive well-being of the communities it serves, and improving the democratic outcomes of our technological activities through efforts like the Public Interest Technology University Network speaks directly to that mission.”
A full description of projects funded is available here.
The Public Interest Technology University Network is a partnership of colleges and universities convened by New America, the Ford Foundation, and the Hewlett Foundation. The network and challenge grants are funded through the support of the Ford Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, Mastercard Impact Fund, with support from the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, The Raikes Foundation, Schmidt Futures and The Siegel Family Endowment. PIT-UN is dedicated to building the nascent field of public interest technology through curriculum development, faculty research opportunities, and experiential learning programs, in order to inspire a new generation of civic-minded technologists and policy leaders.
Senior Advisor, Strategy and Engagement