ISSACS Receives Funding for Public Interest Technology Fellowship

Fellowship program to focus on social and environmental issues in technology

Case Western Reserve among 18 universities funded by nonprofit New America; fellowship aims to shape future policies, technologies

Case Western Reserve University will host a fellowship next year to train future leaders in advancing racial and social justice, climate action, data equity and human rights in the technology field.

The nonprofit New America awarded a combined $2.3 million to Case Western Reserve and 17 other universities to “bolster efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in technology development,” the organization announced on Friday, Oct. 28.

For up to eight students accepted into the pilot of this fellowship at Case Western Reserve, it represents a chance to become future leaders in a fast-changing field in Northeast Ohio, said Nick Barendt, executive director of the Institute for Smart, Secure and Connected Systems (ISSACS) and leader of the program at Case Western Reserve.

Nick Barendt in blue shirt with arms folded across chest
Nick Barendt

“Technology is becoming increasingly prevalent and pervasive in all of our lives, and its impact on our society and culture [is] not all positive,” Barendt said. “We need to do a better job of preparing our students to help shape the technology and policy of the future—and that’s what this program is really all about.”

New America also funded several CWRU-led projects in 2021. The partnership has awarded more than $14 million nationally since its launch four years ago, according to the nonprofit.

All the institutions receiving support are members of the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN). PIT-UN is a partnership of 48 colleges and universities convened by New America, with funding from the Ford Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, and others.

Public interest technology (PIT) generally refers to the study and application of technology expertise in ways that promote the public good—especially for members of society who are the least well-served historically and today because of existing systems and policies.
A new ‘generation of civic-minded technologists’

The grants will fund interdisciplinary teaching, career-pipeline development, experiential learning and network building to advance social and racial justice, climate action, cybersecurity, data equity, human rights and more, New America said.

The programs start spring semester 2023; students are invited to apply online. Any undergraduate or graduate student at Case Western Reserve University who will graduate after August 2023 is eligible to participate in the PIT Fellowship. 

Case Western Reserve faculty mentors will educate the students in classroom settings on campus, and will oversee hands-on, experiential education opportunities with local nonprofits and government agencies, Barendt said.

“The faculty we have recruited come from engineering and computer science, the humanities, social sciences and healthcare,” Barendt said. “That expertise runs the gamut from algorithmic bias to community health disparities.”

CWRU’s community partners—including the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, DigitalC, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and others—are “on the front line of addressing diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in our region,” Barendt said.

The students will work with community partners over the summer on real-world projects, with guidance from CWRU faculty mentors.

“This interdisciplinary team of faculty and community partners will offer our students an unparalleled introduction to the theory and practice of technology in the public interest,” Barendt said.

*The text for this article was reproduced in its entirety from the November 10, 2022 edition of CWRU's The Daily. The article was originally published on October 31, 2022. For more information, contact Mike Scott at