Almost 100 Civic Digital Fellows joined federal agencies this summer through a competitive fellowship program, which is coordinated by Harvard University and open to U.S. undergraduate and master’s students across the nation. This is a pipeline for young technologists to join federal agencies for 10-weeks and experience public service through “civic tech service.” Fellows lend their data, design, and product delivery skills to federal agencies including:
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- National Institutes of Health
- General Services Administration
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
- U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service.
In 2022, two Civic Digital Fellows are contributing to a variety of HHS projects including analyzing and reporting on federal and HHS AI/ML use, as well as designing and assisting in the launch of the OCDO website. Two fellows are collaborating with the U.S. Digital Corps to harness the power of human-centered design, user experience , and customer experience to improve HHS service delivery to rebuild trust in government. Their human-centered design is helping HHS to better understand the lived experiences of patients, practitioners, and those on the frontlines with infection-associated chronic illnesses. This includes the Health+ Long COVID and Health+ Lyme disease human-centered design, where fellows are advancing priorities related to health equity and infection-associated chronic illnesses including Long COVID and Lyme disease.
Each Fellow brings a unique set of skills and interests to our HHS projects, as they describe below in their own words.
Master in Design Engineering, Class of 2023
My favorite quote comes from Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, as I think that it so wonderfully encapsulates social impact field work and continually keeps me motivated. “The harder feat for any fieldworker is not getting in; it’s leaving. And the more difficult ethical dilemma is not how to respond when asked to help but how to respond when you are given so much. I have been blessed by countless acts of generosity from the people I met in Milwaukee. Each one reminds me how gracefully they refuse to be reduced to their hardships. Poverty has not prevailed against their deep humanity.”
I am passionate about working with underserved global communities to create sustainable, user-driven design engineering solutions and have five years of experience working in the development space including with the International Rescue Committee and Peace Corps Tanzania. Working at the intersection of human-centered design and social impact made choosing to work with HHS and the InnovationX team easy. Large entities like the government often struggle to incorporate new processes and technologies into their work, and so I was drawn to HHS and the opportunity to witness how a culture of innovation and change can be created within the public sector. Ultimately, my goal is to continue working in the East Africa region, and through this fellowship at HHS, I hope to learn how to introduce human-centered design practices to institutions that may not be currently using these methodologies. In my spare time you can find me hiking with my dog, throwing pottery on the wheel, or scouring Boston for the best cheap eats.
San Luis Obispo, CA
Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies, Class of 2022
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
I can’t think of a quote that I would deem as my most favorite, but two short quotes that illustrate my thoughts right now are, “We encounter the deep question of design when we recognize that in designing tools we are designing ways of being.” Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores and “In a world in rapid and profound transformation, we are all designers…” Ezio Manzini. For me, the first quote reminds me of the importance of what I am creating, and how it could create a much more meaningful way of existence than they had prior to it. The second quote reminds me to be humble, and realize that the truly best designs are created from a shared enterprise. Overall, the best work moves from designing for people to designing with them.
I am deeply interested in the power of design to create more meaningful and fulfilling ways of living. My academic background is in science and technology studies and engineering design where I have been lucky to conduct research and class projects in these areas. It is through my desire for helping others via my interests that this fellowship and host office seemed like the best fit. Helping others achieve a better state of being through human centered design seemed like an amazing opportunity that I would be remiss to pass up.
I’m also quite a generalist, and love learning about whatever asinine topic has my fixation for the month, as well as trying new activities, hobbies, and food. Overall, I enjoy taking photos, finding new indie music to add to my playlists, hiking the trails in SLO, watching independent movies, and going surfing.
San Ramon, CA
Bachelor of Science in Statistics and Data Science, Class of 2022
UC Santa Barbara
This is one of my favorite quotes: “I have self-doubt. I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I'm like, 'My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don't have it. I just want to chill.' We all have self-doubt. You don't deny it, but you also don't capitulate to it. You embrace it.” - Kobe Bryant
It’s difficult to imagine that a household name like Kobe is just as human. The work ethic that he prided himself on and the legendary status that he built for himself through it was really inspiring to me. It also prompts me to think about the culture of mental health and how it lives alongside dedication and career focus. Kobe was outspoken about his insecurities and preached about how success for him started with envisioning the future he wanted for himself, but not denying and suppressing his struggles.
Throughout my undergrad, the projects that felt really rewarding were always centered around social equity, so my goal is to be able to apply data science for social good. I’ve interned in data analysis and had a chance to take part in lab research so I’m hoping to translate that experience into a career in civic tech! In my free time I love working with digital audio production and trying new food whenever I can.
Bachelor of Science in Applied and Computational Mathematical Sciences, Class of 2023
University of Washington
I am reminded of a popular quote from Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko: “Living every day in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.” The book and TV series portray this quote throughout the whole story, and it is very touching and humbling when reflecting on my past experiences and courage to stick with my identities. Lee’s words inspire me to continue being confident and to act on my determination to advocate for equity.
My undergrad in the Scientific Computing and Numerical Algorithms branch of my major has been focused on learning the mathematics behind machine learning, improving the accuracy of predictions, and identifying possible bias. I am passionate about data science and utilizing the resulting insights to promote accessibility. I joined HHS to gain exposure in health and public service and to later apply my knowledge and experience as a Fellow towards my future goals. I hold great affection for youths and older adults and later hope to address their accessibility in current innovative technology. Other interests I have include embroidering, listening to music and audiobooks, and enjoying picnics with family and friends.
Civic Digital Fellows also participate in professional development opportunities to learn about the many roles of government, even though the fellows are working remotely this year. Experiences such as brown bag luncheons and networking opportunities empower the Fellows to learn about different HHS divisions and federal opportunities, while advancing their own individual career goals.
Here’s to this 2022 cohort—and future cohorts—lending their talents to government through the Civic Digital Fellows program. Thank you for your civic tech service!