The Applied Data Fellowship may only be in its second year, but it is already among the top short-term destinations for Harris Public Policy graduates as they embark on the post-Harris phase of their careers.

Consistent with Harris' mission to root public policy in data and social impact, the Applied Data Fellowship matches University of Chicago graduates possessing strong data skills with philanthropies, research organizations, and local government agencies including Cook County’s Office of the President, City of Chicago’s Office of the Mayor, Joyce Foundation, and Chicago Community Trust, for one year to provide data analysis for policy decisions.

Neha Kaul Mehra, Associate Director, Strategy and Business Development, IIC

“It’s logical that an increasing number of Harris graduates gravitate toward the Applied Data Fellowship, and that more partner organizations see the value in participating,” explained Neha Kaul Mehra, Associate Director of the Applied Data Fellowship. “The program aligns so well with Harris’ commitment to civic engagement and policy analysis. With the combination of data skills and commitment to social innovation Harris graduates offer, it is not surprising that more than 50 percent of fellows move into full-time roles with the organizations they’re placed in.” 

Among the fellows who are now working full-time with their organization is Christine Nappo, MPP’17. Christine began her work as a fellow with the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development in fall 2018, analyzing Department of Defense contract data for Northeastern Illinois.

By April 2019, before her fellowship was complete, Nappo was offered a full-time position as program manager, where she manages the Chicago Region’s role in the Illinois Defense Network (IDN), helping defense manufacturers diversify their supply chain and grow the region’s defense footprint. Nappo works closely with the County’s IDN partners, local economic development organizations, workforce partners, trade associations, manufacturing institutes and the Lt. Governor’s office in order to grow the Chicago Defense Resiliency Program. Her work is being presented to the National Association of Counties later this year.

Applied Data Fellow Christine Nappo looks on as Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle interacts with participants at a job training site
Applied Data Fellow Christine Nappo looks on as Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle interacts with participants at a job training site.

“The fellowship provided a unique opportunity to apply the conceptual knowledge I’d gained in the Harris program to do hands-on analysis,” Nappo said. “It was a way to bring that skillset to a practical scenario.” Nappo studied economics for her undergraduate degree and worked for a decade in financial services before enrolling at Harris, eager to find a more direct path to making an impact.

The Applied Data Fellowship boasts a cohort that is 67 percent female and majority international, giving students with the extra challenge of securing visas a leg up in the job hunt.

Lucia Delgado, MPP’18, was a fellow at the University of Chicago Urban Labs, five labs, all housed at Harris, that are working to address challenges across five dimensions of urban life: crime, education, health, poverty, and energy and environment.

Her work for the Crime Lab focused on data analysis and program evaluation, and allowed her to learn about social policy in Chicago via firsthand experience with an organization advancing progress against violence and other issues central in the lives of Chicago’s citizens.

“Crime Lab is doing such important research, and the experience gave me, as an international student, much needed expertise in the United States,” Delgado said. “My experience during the fellowship was also central to enhancing my data analysis skills.” 

Delgado was also among the group who landed a full-time job from her fellowship, where she has been on staff since summer 2019.

Applied Data Fellows Christine Nappo, MPP '17, Laura McFadden, MPP '18, Yunzhi Wang, MPP '18, and Evelyn Sanchez, MPP '18, present their project outcomes to Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle.

In addition to the valuable opportunities it offers international students, the Applied Data Fellowship has proven a helpful stepping stone for those from Harris interested in career changes.

Take Nicholas Tallant, MPP’20, who came to Harris with a background as a music teacher.

He was thrilled to apply what he’d learned in his first year of graduate school to a real-world problem during his fellowship at the UChicago Consortium on School Research, where he analyzed Chicago Public Schools’ implementation of common core state standards in Illinois. He also wrote a suite of tools to increase efficiency for his colleagues, which he understands they are still utilizing.

“The biggest benefit for me was just the time spent working and using the skills of the degree; that was really what I was looking for,” Tallant said. “I needed more relevant experience because my background was in music education.”

“And, it was incredibly satisfying when analysis I performed was used in a real-world setting,” he added.

Perhaps the greatest testament to the success of the Fellowship, however, is that it’s creating, not just filling, jobs. “Many full-time positions have been added by organizations that saw the importance of the kind of work their fellows were doing,” said Mehra. “And, of course, it is a testament to the caliber of opportunities that Harris students are presented with outside the classroom.”

“Harris gave me the training to add that data component to my skill set,” Nappo said, “and the fellowship provided me an opportunity to put that into practice.”

As the Fellowship evolves, programming for the fellows is also expanding. The program recently hosted Tom Schenk Jr., the director of analytics at KPMG, for a Fireside Chat, during which he spoke from his experience as a leader in the field of data analysis. 

The Fireside Chat, which was moderated by the Fellowship’s Associate Director Neha Mehra, and held at 1871, the co-working and incubator space, was the first of an upcoming series of intimate, focused discussions that will connect leaders in data analysis and civic technology with the Fellows.

Schenk — who has extensive experience in both the public and private sectors, including as the former Chief Data Officer for the City of Chicago — addressed top-of-mind issues for data analysts, including imperfect data, bias, privacy, and communicating findings.

ADF will soon host Brian Fabes, CEO of the Civic Consulting Alliance, and Dessa Gypalo, the Chief Data Officer of Cook County.