Police vehicle accidents and the impact such crashes have had on communities across New York State are the focus of a new data journalism project involving Newhouse School students working in partnership with reporters from the USA Today Network and Central Current….
As U.S. Digital Corps Fellow, Alumna Does Work That Serves the Public Interest
Alumna Chizobam Nwagwu ’18 (neuroscience/policy studies) is currently serving in the inaugural cohort of U.S. Digital Corps (USDC) Fellows. The U.S. Digital Corps launched last year to recruit early-career technologists to work on priority projects in five skill tracks: software engineering, data science and analytics, product management, design and cybersecurity. Fellows will work on projects in a wide range of areas, including health, immigration, customer experience and equity.
Below, she shares about this experience and her time at Syracuse University.
01What inspired you to join the USDC? What are you doing within your job role?
In graduate school, I learned about public interest technology—basically work at the intersection of tech, public policy and design. Since then, I’ve enjoyed working on projects partnered with local and state government employees using user research, design and tech to prototype solutions to important policy problems.
After getting the chance to work in the federal government as a Coding it Forward fellow at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, I realized I really enjoyed working in public service and using my technical, research and policy skills to improve government service delivery and work in the public interest. The U.S. Digital Corps experience really aligns with my long-term career interests to do work that serves the public interest. I also was looking for jobs where I could receive mentorship and opportunities to lead important work. Being able to work at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) really aligned with my personal interests in public health and policy. I am a product manager at the Digital Service at CMS (DSAC).
As a new employee, I have appreciated the chance to jump into different projects. Our team supports transforming the U.S. health care system by modernizing systems, improving the design of health care experiences, participating in policy development and delivering value to the government, health care providers and patients.
02You were an Aspen Tech Policy Hub Winter Scholar earlier this year and worked on designing and creating good tech policy and civic technology to address impactful public sector challenges. Why is this so important? Where have you seen it make a difference?
The Aspen Tech Policy Hub Policy Primer Program was a 10-week program where technologists learned and applied the policy process. This experience helped me tangibly see how policy and technology can be paired together to improve government service delivery.
For example, the White House and the U.S. Department of Treasury partnered with Code for America to create a tool for families to easily sign up for monthly Child Tax Credit payments during the pandemic. By using user-centered approaches to reducing administrative burden for applicants, this service delivered critical aid swiftly to millions of families.
03During your time as an undergraduate at Syracuse University, you spent seven weeks as a Public Policy and International Affairs Program Fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Please tell us about that experience.
I heard about the PPIA Junior Summer Institute (JSI) program through Jolynn Parker, the director of the University’s Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising. The program is designed to expose individuals from backgrounds underrepresented in public policy to graduate policy programs and career opportunities.
For 10 weeks, my cohort of 18 fellows took graduate-level courses at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs while engaging in experiential policy projects. My experience in Minnesota reaffirmed and strengthened my interest in pursuing public policy in graduate school. I made lifelong friends who shared similar and diverse passions, met mentors that provided ongoing support and learned a lot about the history of the Twin Cities. Of all the JSI sites, the University of Minnesota’s program stood out because of their clear emphasis on social justice. My favorite courses were those taught by Dr. Greg Lindsey (Policy Analysis 101) and Dr. Samuel Myers (Race and Policy). Because of this opportunity, I attended Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College to pursue a master’s degree in public policy and management.
04You also received a Fulbright research grant to Nigeria during the 2018-19 academic year. What was the theme of that research, and how are you incorporating it into your work today?
My research focused on surveying youth attitudes toward drug use in Lagos. I designed and distributed surveys across six local government areas in the state and my small team of local university students conducted interviews with various community leaders. That work provided me with a firsthand understanding of the value of user research and the importance of uplifting community voices in policy design.
05Where do you see yourself in the future?
I see myself continuing to engage in work that serves the public interest.
06In your spare time, you are a gardener and tried your hand at growing okra this year. How did that go?
Sadly, my okra didn’t make it this year. However, I did grow a ton of banana peppers, tomatoes and sunflowers. I am definitely a novice gardener, but I’ve enjoyed trying to grow new things.