Each summer AidData – a research and innovation lab at W&M – sends students abroad to work with local organizations on research driven projects. Over the last 4 years its Summer Fellows program has matched 75 students with host organizations in 10 countries to promote data literacy and use of aid information in decision making. Fellows are embedded for 10 weeks with governments, civil society organizations, universities, and USAID missions. During that time they undertake collaboratively defined projects, including building data management and visualization systems, training journalists in data analysis for evidence-based reporting and incorporating aid information into service delivery and corruption monitoring efforts.
It’s a powerful experience for students to take their classroom coursework and their AidData experience and apply those tools and knowledge in practice. This year W&M students will work in Bangladesh, the Philippines, Senegal and Nepal. The respective diversity of backgrounds is a testament to W&M’s focus on interdisciplinary studies, with majors and minors including: International Relations, Chinese, Public Health, Ecology, GIS & Environmental Policy, Economics and Mathematics. More about them and their cohort.
One of my favorite parts of the experience, though, is their first week. We call it the “data bootcamp” and it’s held at W&M each year just before Memorial Day. Faculty and staff from across AidData open their homes to the students, and it’s a great experience to get to know the students better as we sit around the dinner table each night talking about what they learned and what they hope to achieve. It always reminds me that many of my strongest moments of personal growth and reflection occurred when I conducted research abroad. And consistently, when I ask students what their favorite experience was from their time at W&M and AidData, they point to this chance to conduct research with local community and government partners abroad.