The VT Data Science for the Public Good Program (DSPG) was first offered by the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in 2020. The program was developed in partnership with the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service and Virginia State University under the leadership of the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute’s Social and Decision Analytics division.
The mission of the DSPG program is to provide experiential learning opportunities to students through the Young Scholars Program (YSP). The YSP is implemented through the Data Science for the Public Good (DSPG) young scholar’s platform. The DSPG platform promotes team science, where undergraduates and graduate students collaborate with faculty members to address current social issues locally and nationally. In the summer, the teams are brought together to conduct research at the intersection of statistics, computation, and the social sciences to determine how information can be leveraged to improve quality of life and inform public policy.
Our team-based experiential learning approach develops the problem-solving, leadership, and technical skills necessary for a new generation of workers in food, agriculture, and community development. The project-focused program provides all participating undergraduates with an opportunity to experience how data science tools are applied to meaningful research problems confronting agriculture and rural communities. The hands-on, minds-on applied research experiences help students to understand how to formulate a research question and then how to obtain, use, analyze, and present data in meaningful ways to policymakers, decisionmakers, and the public. The student-stakeholder project collaboration involving Virginia Cooperative Extension specialists and other policy stakeholders provides an important form of professional mentoring for the student interns. That is, students will gain insights into potential career opportunities in the agricultural and public policy sectors.
The DSPG program is funded by the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Institute for Society, Culture and Environment. The undergraduate internship program is funded by grant no. 2022-67037-36639 / project accession no. 2021-10424, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture.