A new data-centric initiative has been established between New College of Florida and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County to share community trends and enhance the work of graduate-level professional students.
The “Community Indicators Project” is an emerging data dashboard that harnesses the measurements of health, education, human services, arts and culture, and environmental factors to gain a more timely and thorough assessment of quality of life—both as a region, and at the neighborhood level. This cloud-based, open-source tool designed by New College students will be available to the public and used by the Community Foundation to consider how charitable giving can positively affect areas of need or concern. The dashboard will be available to the public in Spring 2022.
This multi-year initiative came from a pilot project that began during the pandemic to allow students in New College’s Master’s in Applied Data Science Program to gain real-world experience, while improving the Community Foundation’s understanding of evolving community needs through expertise in data science modeling and analysis.
“This is a great a collaboration between New College and the Community Foundation. The professional positions offered to our students provide real-world use of the skills they are building,” said Burcin Bozkaya, Ph.D., the director of the Applied Data Science Program at New College. “Additionally, by providing a publicly-accessible, cloud-based tool that others can use, students, teachers and leaders across our region will have the latest data to inform decisions large and small.”
The concept for the dashboard first took shape when the two organizations developed baseline reports about area-wide philanthropic trends, alongside key measurements of health, education, arts and civic participation.
“Data gives us the opportunity to better understand the people we call our neighbors, colleagues and friends,” said Ranata Reeder, the vice president of Knowledge and Equity at the Community Foundation, noting that the two organizations have been partners since 1994. “Through this partnership, we hope to engage students and show how they are active, forward-thinking participants in their community by applying their skills to catalyze conversations around local needs and promote equity.”
Hands-on, practical application of data science—outside the classroom—takes students’ skills to the next level, Bozkaya said.
“New College students are regularly working on important projects each semester as part of their coursework, like in their ‘Practical Data Science’ course, or outside the classroom like with this project for the Community Foundation,” Bozkaya said. “Our students will have the opportunity this fall to work under the guidance provided by the Knowledge and Equity Department at the Community Foundation, which will be continued in the spring as one student’s practicum.”
As New College interns succeed in discovering population trends that can be acted upon by community leaders, those community leaders can (through data) make better-informed decisions and policy changes.
The Community Foundation’s 41-year history of investing charitable dollars to address community needs will be enriched by the thoughtful application of big data. The organization’s first foray into applying data to better understand the nonprofit community began in 2012 with the launch of The Giving Partner, an online resource detailing the goals, successes and operations of more than 700 nonprofit organizations serving Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties.
As Reeder said, “Through the ongoing assessment of key social determinants of health and well-being, Community Foundation board members, staff, donors and nonprofit partners will have even greater knowhow, guidance and resources thanks to these New College interns who are eager to use data for good.”
For more information on the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, visit cfsarasota.org.
For more information on the Applied Data Science Program at New College of Florida, visit ncf.edu/academics/graduate-program.
Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.