Apruzzese says strengthening his data analytics skills through the Data & Policy Summer Scholar (DPSS) program changed his academic and career path.
Headshot of  Gerard Apruzzese
Gerard Apruzzese

As an MPA candidate at Columbia University studying Urban Policy and Data Analytics, Gerard Apruzzese credits the Data & Policy Summer Scholar (DPSS) Program at the Harris School of Public Policy for changing his academic and professional trajectory.

“Prior to joining DPSS, my understanding of research was predominantly qualitative. My undergraduate degrees—in religious studies and sociology from the University of Texas at Austin—were deeply rooted in qualitative analysis.” In his coursework, Apruzzese said he would read about how people were impacted by negative policies, “but I was never able to quantify the effect of these policies…or understand how large-scale certain institutional influences were. I realized I needed a complementary set of analytic skills to understand more and communicate better how impactful policies are in day-to-day life and people’s livelihoods.”

DPSS, Apruzzese said, opened that door. “DPSS taught me a lot about how to use data. I had always been interested in research but didn’t focus on the data side. Through DPSS, I learned how impactful and important data can be when used effectively.” That impact crystallized for Apruzzese when he worked through the Capstone Project. “I used an international policy dataset that tracked the history of votes for each country in the UN and each resolution that the UN voted on. I applied what I learned in class regarding R and data analytics to see trends, patterns, and why some countries diverge from one another.”

But DPSS was more than just skill acquisition for Apruzzese: it was an avenue for personal and professional growth. “With no prior experience in R and limited experience in data, working with the teaching team was invaluable. In fact, many of us in the program agreed that this experience was the time in our lives when we had the most access to teaching teams and professors. Personally, it was incredibly helpful to me because I could go to office hours on my own schedule.”

The availability of the teaching team, Apruzzese added, also spoke to the value of the program’s flexibility. “DPSS is a really good opportunity because of the way the program is structured. Even though it's a remote program, it was easy to make friends and connections, and I've connected with other DPSS alumni at roundtables and other events. DPSS is a great way to develop skills, meet a lot of people in the policy sphere, and build connections.”

Finally, Apruzzese said he appreciated the in-person weekend after DPSS was over. “Not only was it great to meet my fellow DPSS participants—many of whom I am still in touch with—but it was a really cool experience to go to a policy school, meet policy professionals, and learn about the teaching team at Harris.”

As for future plans, Apruzzese has big ambitions: “I’d like to go on to earn a PhD and become a professor at a policy school. I’d like to teach data analytics to future policymakers and show them how to use data to analyze if policy is working as intended—or at all.”