Students with MSCAPP degrees are using their data skills to change the world in the 2020 presidential election.

In politics, the magic may be in the message – but the message goes nowhere without data.

Natasha Mathur, MSCAPP’19, is hard at work on the data science team for Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign, acquiring, analyzing, and sharing information to build Warren’s base of supporters.

Bridgit Donnelly, MSCAPP’16, was chief of staff for Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign until he withdrew from the presidential race. As head of internal communications for the campaign, Donnelly often was translator among departments, especially when it came to data and technology.

Super Tuesday looms large for both.

Hectic days have become even more intense as Mathur and her teammates tailor approaches for each of the 12 states staging primaries on March 3.

Senator Cory Booker on the campaign trail.

 “A large part of my work is finding better ways to get in touch with people’’ and then getting the most relevant information to campaign staffers as they meet voters, Mathur said.

Mathur grew up in a New York City suburb with parents who had moved to the U.S. from India as young adults. They often discussed social issues and compared policies by country. She recalls tagging along with her mom on Election Day when she cast a vote for John Kerry.

That family dynamic fed her interest in public sector work and led Mathur to Harris. She pursued the Master of Science in Computational Analysis & Public Policy (MSCAPP) to position herself for having the greatest possible impact.

In her first job in politics, Mathur “constantly’’ uses programing and statistics skills from Harris, grounded in the language of policy. Program Evaluation and Science of Elections and Campaigns classes, as well as a course on inequality at the School of Social Service Administration, have been especially applicable to the Warren campaign job.

She often finds herself speaking with teams across the Warren operation about what data would be most useful depending on goal and circumstance.

"Natasha Mathur, MSCAPP'19, takes a "selfie" with Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democratic candidate for President of the United States.
Natasha Mathur, MSCAPP'19, takes a "selfie" with Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democratic candidate for President of the United States.

“I love how collaborative the campaign environment is,’’ Mathur said, “something that is amplified by the urgency behind our projects, a strong common shared goal, and the fact that we are all sitting so close to each other.’’

Donnelly thrives on the collaboration, too.

A veteran of seven political campaigns and the recount in Florida, she will watch Super Tuesday with intense interest though from the sidelines since Booker ended his presidential bid.

She credits MSCAPP for putting her in high demand. She entered the program intent on diving deep into data science and left as a fluent translator.

“That is the huge benefit of MSCAPP and Harris,’’ Donnelly said. “I came away being able to make certain all of the people at the table really understand what the other is saying.’’

She grew up in Arlington, Va., close to the nation’s capital but with no connection to government. Her mom was a teacher and her dad an architect. “To me, D.C. was a tourist attraction. I never thought about what work got done there – let alone as a place I could work.’’

When she fell into politics, she fell hard.

A student at Barnard College in New York City in 2008, she found herself at an Obama rally in Washington Square Park. “He was doing the fired-up, ready-to-go speech. There were thousands of people. He specifically asked us to help. He said, I can’t win without you. I need you to get involved.”

“It was the first time a politician had said that to me,’’ Donnelly said.

She volunteered over spring break and then she left school for the fall semester to work on Obama’s campaign. Her parents, skeptical at first, “were incredibly supportive once I convinced them that is was ’normal’ to take a semester off for something so important.’’  

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey was a candidate for president from February 2019 to January 2020.
Bridgit Donnelly, MSCAPP’16, was chief of staff for Senator Cory Booker’s 2020 presidential campaign.

Donnelly did return to Barnard, earning a degree in political science and then working on a number of local, state, and federal campaigns. By the time she entered MSCAPP as part of the original cohort in 2014, Donnelly had sworn off politics and political campaigns.

“Campaign work is incredibly difficult -- very long hours, seven days a week,’’ Donnelly said. “I wanted to figure out a way to take what I had learned on campaigns as a mere consumer of data for decision-making, become a data person myself, and then apply that knowledge to making change through policymaking.’’ 

And, she hoped, in a job with more sustainable hours.

Donnelly took her MSCAPP degree to New York where she worked as Director of Data and Analytics for the city’s Public Engagement Unit, using campaign-style engagement for city services such as registration for the Affordable Care Act and housing programs. 

Then, she said, “Trump was in office and 2020 was calling me.’’

She answered the call, signed on in the earliest days with the Booker team, recruiting and organizing teams for analytics, technology, and opinion research. Not too long in, she was promoted to Chief of Staff. 

To Donnelly, data is storytelling.

“Everyone needs that person – the one who can make data and technology accessible."

Learn more about MSCAPP

If you want to apply big data to big problems, and prepare yourself for a career at the intersection of public policy and data science, learn more about the MS in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MSCAPP).