RIT joins Public Interest Technology University Network

Think tank-supported effort focuses on educating students to use technology for public good

Rochester Institute of Technology is among 15 colleges and universities that have joined the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN), a program of the think-tank New America.

The 2-year-old network, which now includes 36 members, unites colleges and universities committed to building the field of public interest technology and growing a new generation of civic-minded technologists.

Ellen Granberg, RIT’s provost and senior vice president of Academic Affairs, said the university is very excited to join the network, which includes some of the nation’s most prestigious universities.

“We will be networking with other universities interested in using technology for public benefit,” Granberg said. “This will create new opportunities for our students and faculty, and it reflects perfectly RIT’s mission, that we leverage the power of technology, the arts, and design for the greater good.”

The newest members also include Boston University, Cal Poly State University, Cornell University, George Washington University, Georgia State University, Nazareth College, New York University, UC Santa Cruz, University of Arizona, University of Pennsylvania, University of the South, University of Washington, Virginia Tech, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

The network seeks to equip tomorrow’s computer scientists, information architects, engineers, data scientists, designers, lawyers, policy experts, and social scientists with the skills to create public policy that centers the needs of people and their communities.

“Last year, we successfully launched the Public Interest Technology University Network with 21 charter members,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America. “Many had already begun their own efforts to educate students at the cross section of technology and policy through certificate programs, joint degrees, new majors, institutes, and schools. Yet, the work of transforming their educational institutions is a long, isolating, and arduous task, operating at a pace ill-suited for the dramatic changes wrought by technology. However, these 36 colleges and universities have committed to working together to address society’s most pressing problems through the rigorous and thoughtful application of the best tools developed by the best minds at their institutions. As a Network, they are then poised to leverage and amplify the most effective models for the broader community to adopt.”

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation and a founding sponsor of PIT-UN, said the network will “cultivate a generation of tech leaders equipped to use technology to challenge inequality in all its forms and expand inclusion and opportunity. This remarkable collaboration sets a precedent for the type of partnerships that will be essential in tackling new and enduring problems such as poverty, discrimination, and environmental degradation that plague our society and require the full commitment of institutions to make lives better for all.”

PIT-UN members commit to launching or strengthening initiatives on their campuses that:

  • Support curriculum development and faculty hiring needed to provide students with interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary education, so they can critically assess the implications of new technologies and develop technologies in service of the public good.
  • Develop experiential learning opportunities, such as clinics, internships, and fellowships at the intersection of technology and public interest.
  • Find new ways to encourage and support graduates who pursue careers in public interest technology, recognizing that financial considerations and debt pose barriers to entering the field.
  • Provide faculty with the infrastructure, support, and resources to build this nascent area of inquiry and training.
  • Share institutional data that allows the network to assess the effectiveness of efforts to develop the field of public interest technology.

PIT-UN said the new members join a group of charter members already working on projects, including a Public Interest Tech Case Study platform collaboration between Howard, Georgetown, and Stanford universities; University of Texas at Austin and University of Michigan’s joint conference and online community of undergraduate researchers and educators in informatics education; and Harvard University’s network of technology science educators and researchers exploring the adverse consequences of technologies for society.

Collaboration between members of the Public Interest Technology University Network is made possible by its partners in the philanthropic and public policy sectors, including the Ford Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, and New America, a think and action tank dedicated to renewing America in an age of rapid technological and social change. New America will manage the network, providing technical support and assistance and facilitating the exchange of information and resources between network members.

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