Chang has spent the past decade advocating for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
Richard Chang smiling in a dark sweater with palm trees behind him
Richard Chang

In a recent publication, first-year MS in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MSCAPP) Native Hawaiian student Richard Chang forecast how Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities could be displaced by 2040. “Pacific Islanders will be the first to be hit by issues like climate change and climate migration. In order to address those issues, decision-makers need to include stakeholders from those communities. I hope my degree from Harris will help me to connect policymakers with community members to address these issues.”

Born and raised in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Chang was geographically isolated from Native Hawaiians during his childhood. While his parents practiced some Hawaiian traditions, Chang lacked the cultural context to give these traditions meaning.

It was an unexpected event that ultimately pushed Chang closer to his cultural community. During the Gulf War, a SCUD missile landed close enough to shake the walls of his family’s apartment, prompting their decision to move to California.

Chang went on to earn his Bachelors in Political Science from the University of California San Diego, and later his Juris Doctorate from Seton Hall University. While working as an attorney in California, Chang learned that his grandfather had been a territorial senator in Hawaii, sparking his interest in learning more about his culture.

Chang co-founded Empowering Pacific Islander Communities and joined its nonprofit board in 2009, where he felt he found his calling. Mentoring from community elders, studying literature and data, and meeting with Pacific Islander communities were key factors that led him to pivot to make Empowering Pacific Islander Communities his full-time career.

As a Project Manager and later Director of Policy at Empowering Pacific Islander Communities from 2013–17, he developed and launched the first statewide and national Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander demographic profiles, started the first Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander National Network, and helped draft State Assembly (PDF, 4 pages) and Senate resolutions recognizing the contributions of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in California. He also helped to convince the Department of Justice in California to mandate the collection of Pacific Islander data in a statewide anti-racial profiling bill. Most recently, he served as President of the Pacific Islander Health Partnership, overseeing fundraising and strategic planning.

He decided to pursue the MS in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MSCAPP) at Harris to “have a seat at the table where data tools are developed to ensure data is being used in ways that help communities.” His end goal is to work for a government agency or private firm that applies data science to improve socioeconomic outcomes and reduce disparities.

“At Harris, we are learning how computer science principles and tools can be applied directly to public policy issues from day one, and the pace at which we’re learning has outstripped any expectations I had coming in. … Professor Anne Rogers in particular teaches us to think rigorously about every step in the process while focusing on what matters.”

Chang also praised the interdisciplinary thinking at the University of Chicago, where students can take electives from other schools and departments on campus.

“Another factor that impacted my decision to attend Harris was the accessible student disability services. I was born with a hearing disability, and at UChicago, it was easy to start the conversation about reasonable accommodations.”

What are Chang’s aspirations upon graduating?

“I want to become a bridge between policymakers and the community. Using the technical and analytical skills I acquire at Harris, I hope to implement policy solutions that are equitable and effective, using all of the new data available.”