New Initiative Aims to Apply Computation and Data Science Research Toward Positive Societal Change

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By Casey Moffitt

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S Petrovic

A new effort at Illinois Institute of Technology is empowering students to apply their academic research efforts in computation and data science toward positive societal change.

The Socially Responsible Modeling, Computation, and Design (SoReMo) Initiative connects students with a network of academics to bring their research into the real world and to help solve the issues facing society today.

“We are very good at offering technical knowledge here at Illinois Tech,” says Sonja Petrović, associate professor of applied mathematics and a SoReMo founder. “When we apply that technical knowledge to problems that face society, that education increases in value.”

Petrović says students can use their academic skills to make a difference in two ways. One is to enroll in a hands-on program like Food Science and Nutrition. Another is to pursue an academic passion and learn how to apply it to create social change.

“Let’s say you just do ‘math,’” Petrović says. “How do you make a difference? SoReMo will show how to pursue a passion within the discipline and use it to make difference and enact change.”

The initiative held its initial forum in February to introduce four student fellows and faculty researchers, and to host a brief discussion about goals and interests. Almost every college at Illinois Tech was represented. Petrović says having forum members from a variety of academic backgrounds is an important aspect of the initiative.

“People from different backgrounds look at the same problem from different angles,” she says. “The idea is to bring different people together to look at these ideas.”

SoReMo also will include industry and community leaders, with the aim being to develop it into a think tank to tackle issues society is facing.

SoReMo’s first four fellows are unraveling a variety of social ills from a diverse range of academic backgrounds. Ryan Ciminski (AMAT 1st Year) is examining “Community Risk Mitigation Research: A Data Science Study into the Inequities of Preparedness Education in the Chicago Region.” Barien Gad (BCHM 2nd Year) is working on “Facilities, Amenities, and Accommodations for Minorities in STEM and the Impact on Illinois Tech’s Community.” Alisha Khan (CS 2nd Year) is analyzing “Investigating and Developing Strategies to Address Faculty and Student Diversity at Illinois Tech.” Leilasadat Mirghaderi (THUM Ph.D. candidate) is investigating “Social Media Users Free Labor in Iran: Influencers, Ethical Conduct, and Labor Exploitation.”

The fellows will work with faculty and advisers in a multidisciplinary environment to complete and showcase their projects. They will incorporate feedback from community stakeholders and subject matter experts from industry, academia, and government. During the process, fellows will gain communications training, interdisciplinary experience, and contacts across campus and the community.

Photo: Associate Professor of Applied Mathematics Sonja Petrović