Master of Information and Data Science (MIDS) student Allison Fox has been awarded the Spring of 2022 Jack Larson Data For Good Fellowship for her work to improve health outcomes in disadvantaged countries.
The fellowship supports MIDS students who desire to use data science to benefit society. Successful applicants have a background working for non-profits, government, or community service organizations or be able to demonstrate how they intend to use the data science skills acquired in the MIDS program for the betterment of society.
With an undergraduate degree from Cornell in Global and Public Health Sciences, Fox began working in the field in India at a CDC-funded maternal and child health research study. She soon realized she lacked the skills necessary to extract meaningful insights from the large datasets collected by nurses on her research team. “I was excited to see such large datasets developed,” she said, “but was frustrated by my inability to extract insights due to my inexperience in analyzing health data.”
Upon her return to the US, intent on gaining the skills she knew she needed to clean data, run models, and inform actions, she applied to the MIDS program. The program, she said, “has unlocked my ability to leverage the power of big data while still prioritizing that each data point is a living, human being. This is a powerful combination, allowing me to empower stakeholders with insights and the people behind the data with opportunities.”
In her current position as a senior associate on the data science team at Palladium International, Fox works with colleagues in Nigeria and Papua New Guinea to develop an unsupervised machine learning algorithm that detects anomalies in HIV/AIDS data. The algorithm functions in a similar way to your Netflix account, only instead of recommending movies and TV shows, it identifies patterns between health facilities and HIV metrics to suggest what services a medical facility should offer.
“I see my role on these projects,” Fox said, “as that of a facilitator, educator, and steward. I aim to empower health professionals in the infectious disease field with insights from data.”
Using data science in new sectors comes with both immeasurable potential and immense responsibility; Fox and her colleagues are keenly aware of their obligation to set a precedent for ethical and efficient use of data in epidemic and pandemic management and know there are difficult questions that will have to be answered along the way. “MIDS,” Fox said, “provides me with the data science skills to do this work efficiently, and the framework and worldview to do this work ethically.”