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Hacking Equity: Preparing the Next Generation of Policy Makers and Researchers

The Institute for Social Justice Inquiry and Praxis in the Andrew Young Center for Global Leadership aims to teach, develop, and implement solutions to social inequalities and train students to become the next generation of policy decisionmakers and researchers. As Director of the Institute, my role requires that I continue to develop and strengthen my own skillsets and content expertise. This past summer, I along with two of my AUC colleagues -- Dwann Davenport from the Biology Program at Morehouse College and Barbara Harris Combs from the Sociology Department at Clark Atlanta University -- participated in the Pardee RAND Faculty Leaders Program in Policy Research and Analysis. In an attempt to disseminate some of what we learned this summer, we have collaborated with the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and the Pardee RAND Graduate School to kick off a “Hacking Equity: Ideas for a More Equitable Recovery from the COVID-19 Pandemic” hackathon. The hackathon combines undergraduate students from Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta with Pardee RAND graduate students and RAND Mentors. In order to implement an Atlanta University Center wide initiative, Tiffany Oliver, chair of the Biology Department at Spelman College and Nathan Alexander, of Data Science and Interdisciplinary Studies at Morehouse have also joined in on this venture. 

To further strengthen this initiative, we are working with the Atlanta University Center Data Science Initiative and have formed a Learning Community organized around this endeavor. Pam Daniels from Morehouse School of Medicine and a Desha Elliott, a PhD graduate student in Social Work (with an emphasis on Public Policy) at Clark Atlanta round out the learning community.  The objectives of the learning community are to plan and implement a social policy hackathon as a project to: 1) help AUC students visualize data for social change; 2) expose students to the Pardee Rand Graduate School and potential careers in social policy and/or data analysis; and 3) model collaboration (inter-institutional, inter-disciplinary, and other) for our students.

Despite the pandemic, last week we held our virtual “Policy 101” (aka Why Policy Matters) event with a little shy of 50 AUC students in attendance! The students were highly engaged, tremendous, and made us proud. Twenty-four AUC students were selected to participate in the event, and this week we held our kick-off session. Over the next 3-weeks the cross-institutional student teams will meet regularly. The teams are focused on exposing different dimensions of inequity with respect to Covid and propose solutions to remedy this inequity. To do so, they will analyze data (https://github.com/Tech-Narrative-Lab/hacking-equity). Students are encouraged to build from their personal experiences through the pandemic and explore how that may or may not be reflected in the data. Then, each student group will discern, build, develop and tell a compelling visual story based in the data. The virtual hackathon will occur over the next several weeks, and in the spring, we plan to continue to work with students who wish to build on this experience through conference presentations and publications. This is truly an Atlanta University Center Consortium collaborative effort!

We are also excited to see the ways we can continue to grow the impact of the Faculty Leaders Program to amplify diverse voices in public policy and decision-making. The motivation for bringing this latest version of a hackathon to the Atlanta University Center, was to expose students to various career options in public policy. Last year, psychology alumni Brandon Crosby, formally of RAND, chaired a panel discussion on public policy careers. This year, we welcome back Spelman Alumnae Asya Spears who is a current Pardee RAND graduate student and will serve as a mentor for the Hackathon competition.

Atlanta University Center Students need more opportunities to collaborate, and we see this hackathon as an excellent way of leveraging our strengths as the largest consortium of historically Black colleges and universities.

How will it work?

The RAND-AUC Hackathon will explore Ideas for a More Equitable Recovery from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Challenge: Engaging Future Change Leaders in Policy

We know COVID-19 affected populations inequitably, hitting vulnerable communities especially hard. We also know that young people—given the right tools and knowledge—change the world for the better.

That’s why RAND Corporation, through its NextGen Initiative, and Pardee RAND Graduate School are partnering with the Atlanta University Center (AUC) Consortium—Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College—to offer the RAND–AUC Consortium Tech and Public Policy Hackathon.

This unique virtual hackathon, designed by the Pardee RAND Tech + Narrative Lab, teams AUC undergraduates with Pardee RAND graduate students and challenges them to identify promising policy solutions for a more equitable recovery from the pandemic.

How Is This Hackathon Different?

Hackathons are designed to bring teams together to solve problems.

This hackathon, by connecting emerging leaders of color with experienced policy analysts and doctoral candidates, allows for a wide range of fresh insights and creative explorations, while deepening undergraduate students’ understanding of policy. The program follows in the footsteps of the Pardee RAND Faculty Leaders Program, which aims to build diversity in the field of public policy.

Mentored by RAND researchers, the undergraduate and graduate students will use large datasets to identify social issues and explore promising policy solutions for a more equitable recovery from the pandemic. In mid-November, the teams will share their final presentations, and a panel of judges will select one team’s presentation as the winner. Undergraduates from the winning team will be treated to a hosted lunch and included in a recap video shared on social media.

Who's Involved?

Student Teams

Approximately two dozen AUC students will participate, representing a wide range of interests and goals. Their majors include political science, engineering, cybersecurity, sociology, and more. Their aspirations include a variety of careers, including criminal defense attorney, AI developer, public health physician, cultural anthropologist, and climate change engineer.

They will be joined by doctoral candidates in the policy analysis program at Pardee RAND who come from a variety of disciplines. Pardee RAND Ph.D students pursue research across a wide range of policy issues, including health policy, education, environmental equity, technological equity, and more.

Hackathon at a Glance


Kick-off Meeting: Oct. 27

Team Meetings: Oct. 28 - Nov. 12

Final Presentations: Nov. 17


24 Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, and Spelman undergraduates

16 Pardee RAND Ph.D. students

8 RAND researcher/Pardee RAND faculty mentors

5 judges

1 extraordinary experience!


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Sinead Younge, PhD, is a professor of psychology and Director of the Institute for Social Justice Inquiry and Praxis in the Andrew Young Center for Global Leadership at Morehouse College.