Runes intends to use the computer science and public policy skills she honed through the MSCAPP program as a data and visualizations reporter at WBEZ.
Headshot of Charmaine Runes
Charmaine Runes

“I’m passionate about writing, data visualization, and information accessibility,” said Charmaine Runes, a recent graduate of the Master of Science in Computational Analysis and Public Policy  program. “Data journalism is the way in which I want to do that, and the Harris MSCAPP program was the clear choice for developing my computer science and data analysis skills.”

Runes first came to the U.S. from Dubai to study economics at Macalester College in Minnesota. After graduating in 2015, she worked closely with demographers and statisticians on the 2020 census at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC. “My experience writing at the Urban Institute impelled me to refocus from research to data journalism.”

In addition to various programming languages and technical skills she gained from the MSCAPP program, Runes said she also learned from her computer science courses that “it is okay to feel like you don't know what you’re doing and still feel confident in your ability to figure it out. Failing is part of the learning process. The MSCAPP program provided me with a healthy atmosphere in which to explore, learn, create, and, ultimately, succeed.”  

Runes considered her Data Visualization course taught by New York Times graphics editor Quoctrung Bui, a watershed moment of her Harris coursework. “That I would take a class in my last quarter from an actual reporter doing exactly the kind of work that I want to be doing? It felt like everything was aligned.”

Runes also appreciated the opportunity to explore public service opportunities during her time in the MSCAPP program. “I didn't want to end graduate school and leave Chicago without serving the people that live here.” In summer 2020, Runes was a fellow in the mayor’s office within the Chicago Department of Public Health. “I saw how rapidly information—and misinformation—about COVID-19 was being shared on social media. A lot of people were trying to be authoritative regarding the pandemic, and the local public health department needed to be dominant among those voices.”

In addition, Runes worked with the Chief Data Officer and Design Director of Chicago. “I helped design an intuitive online process for requesting records. I figure if the law says anyone can request records, they should be able to do so easily.”

Finally, Runes also worked for The South Side Weekly while at Harris. There, she supported their mission to cover and serve the West and South Side neighborhoods. She began as a volunteer fact checker and subsequently wrote, reported, and provided data visualization work for the newspaper. “It was wonderful to apply what I was learning during the MSCAPP program and in the service of the greater Chicago community.”

Recently graduated, Runes has accepted a position at WBEZ as a data and visualizations reporter. "I am excited to use the skills I gained at UChicago to equip and empower reporters to use data, since it plays such an important role in providing context.”