Mastercard donates $6.5 million to AUC Data Science Initiative to enhance diversity in data science

Last week, the Atlanta University Center (AUC) Consortium gathered with MasterCard to announce a new partnership about expanding data science across Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The AUC Data Science Initiative received a $6.5 million grant from the credit card company to engage AUC students and faculty toward becoming data scientists in the workforce. 

Dr. Talitha Washing is the Director of the Initiative, who will use the grant to work across the 107 HBCUs nationwide to teach data science and partner throughout the data science curriculum for students and faculty. 

“There is a growing workforce need for data scientists and other professionals who possess data science skills,” Washington said. “Data science impacts everything that we do and we need all talent at all HBCUs to drive innovations.”

The school announced they will begin their partnership at the AUC Woodruff Library. The goal is to equip students with the skills they’ll need to succeed in emerging industries. 

Dr. David Thomas, President of Morehouse College and Chair of the Consortium Board of Trustees, says that the Consortium’s vision of exposing minorities to data science was driven by the observation that data will define the 21st century.

“It won’t matter if you want to be a journalist or if you want to be in bioinformatics or even a lawyer, you’re going to have to understand data,” Thomas said.

With information spreading worldwide, the information forms accumulated data for people to use to improve everyday life.

Washington also mentioned that data can be used for social justice for people of color. 

The use of facial recognition programming has wrongfully accused Black males of recent crimes, resulting in their arrest. She says if there were more diverse data scientists to analyze more objectively, the probability of happening again would be more negligible. 

“When our datasets aren’t diverse – when we don’t have diverse people looking at these algorithms, bad things can happen,” Washington said.

The initiative’s Pre-Freshmen Summer Experience is one of the ways the AUC Data Science Initiative is exposing young people to data science. The program selects incoming first-year college students to work on a project that uses data to help improve health and social justice. 

Last summer, the students’s research revealed that 81 percent of mass shooters exhibited signs of a mental health crisis. 

Washington says by knowing information like this ahead of time law enforcement can prevent people from engaging shootings or becoming the victims of them. 

“People need equitable access to data, data technology and data science,” said Shamina Singh, Vice President for Sustainability for MasterCard and Founder and President of the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth. “This partnership exemplifies that and builds on the work we’ve already been doing.”

Washington wants everyone to be good stewards when collecting data and accumulating it ethically and transparently. She also wants everyone to know how your data is being used in apps, websites and other entities, gathering it and giving it to a third party. 

“Data is here to stay and so being able to navigate through the data landscape will be a new normal moving forward and I think it’s exciting,” Washington said.

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