Cultivating a Smart Equity-Driven Policymaking Infrastructure to Improve Youth Learning Opportunities
Lead PI:
Sheena Erete

Amid growing commitment to address inequities of access to quality learning, this Smart and Connected Communities Planning Grant supports the creation of a collaborative working group consisting of Chicago city agencies, community-based out-of-school time (OST) program providers, schools, funding organizations, families, and youth in Chicago to create a smart, equitable out-of-school learning infrastructure that more effectively allocates learning resources, such as spaces, mentors, technology, and funding, in order to eradicate out-of-school learning deserts in Chicago. This project responds to the critical need to build and strengthen connections among stakeholders, including city agencies, informal educators, out-of-school program leaders, school district leaders, parents, and youth, with an evidence-based understanding of OST offerings. Information about the abundance and diversity of programs and provider organizations, location of programs, capacity of programs, youth interest, and youth population can be used to effectively improve the health of Chicago’s OST learning ecosystem. This project will contribute an actionable framework consisting of policies, practices, funding models, and collaboration structures that support a smart, data-driven method to create equitable out-of-school learning opportunities.

Working in an existing OST learning ecosystem, this project takes a community-driven approach to evaluating the current OST learning landscape by bringing together key stakeholders and facilitating the conversation using interactive smart tools such as data visualizations and GIS maps, that layer community-based OST program, city, and demographic data. This information can help stakeholders discuss and expand and diversify OST learning opportunities and participation among youth in resource-constrained communities. The outcome will be a socio-technical framework, co-created with key learning stakeholders in Chicago, that will include a suite of smart, data-driven technologies that enable a robust, out-of-school learning ecosystem customized to the needs of neighborhood youth. This actionable framework will consist of policies, practices, and structures at both the city and community levels derived from defining a socio-technical infrastructure and shared language, identifying policies and practices that inhibit or support collaboration among learning stakeholders, and co-creating practices for community-based collaboration to transform and activate a new OST ecosystem.

Sheena Erete
associate professor in the College of Information at the University of Maryland, College Park, where I am the founder and director of the Community Research and Design Collective. Currently, I'm a visiting researcher at Google Research. In my research, I explore and design technologies used by geographically-bound communities to address social issues by considering social, cultural, and economic contexts as well as socio-technical infrastructures. The goal of my work is to co-design sustainable technologies, practices, and policies with community organizations that aim to counter structural oppression using equity-centered, justice-oriented, assets-based approaches to research and design. My current projects focus on issues such as equity in AI/ML tools, community safety, education, political efficacy, and economic development in communities that have been historically oppressed and resourced-constrained due to unfair policies and State violence. Most of my work has been situated in Chicago, where I have had the pleasure of partnering with several amazing community organizations. I received my Ph.D. from the Technology and Social Behavior program at Northwestern University, which is a joint degree in Computer Science and Communication. I received my Masters in Computer Science focusing on Human Computer Interaction from the College of Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology. Before attending Georgia Tech, I received two Bachelors of Science degrees from Spelman College in Computer Science and Mathematics. Prior to returning for my Ph.D., I was an User Experience Engineer at IBM.
Performance Period: 03/01/2020 - 06/30/2022
Institution: DePaul University
Award Number: 1952144