MnDRIVE Human in the Data Summer Graduate Fellows


The Human in the Data initiative focuses on the ubiquity of Big Data and algorithmic decision making in every major sector in our world.

Experts from different fields apply sophisticated algorithms to extract insights from data sets, and expectations are high that these insights will aid decision making in areas such as health, food, energy, education, environment and social policy. The use of quantitative data for decision-making has 19th-century roots, but in the 20th and 21st centuries, new technology has enabled more complex collection and application of large datasets. When represented by numbers and numerical proxies, individuals and social relationships are abstracted and obscured to both researchers and end users. Yet data is used to explain, predict, and direct human behavior and define research agendas. Join us as we seek to critically engage with the humanistic dimensions of this significant cultural shift.

In partnership with UMN Informatics Institute, Research Computing, and the University of Minnesota Libraries / Liberal Arts Technologies and Innovation Services (LATIS), this program works to bring to the forefront the efforts undertaken by the humanities and social sciences in large data projects. These have included bringing in speakers as part of public events, as well as providing summer fellowships to support graduate student research. 

The MnDRIVE Human in the Data Summer Graduate Fellowship

Applications for Summer 2024 are now closed.

We invite applications for graduate student summer fellowships in the amount of $7,000 each to fund research on the humanistic implications of data and its use in one of five MnDRIVE areas of concentration: robotics, global food, environment, brain conditions, or cancer clinical trials. This fellowship is intended to fund non-traditional scholarship and engagement work that might not normally fit within standard disciplinary graduate research. Students in the humanities, arts, and humanistic social sciences are particularly encouraged to apply. Eight fellows will be selected.

Learn more


Expand all

Summer 2024 Fellows

Summer 2024 Fellows

Sarah Abdel-Jelil
"Hollow Bodies"
MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Environment

Sonia Beltz
"Our Stomping Grounds: Mapping Social and Environmental Realities in 1830s and 2000s Western New York"
Creative Writing
MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Environment

Mohimarnab Biswas
"Food, ruins and cinema in South Asia"
Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Global Food

Anna Clowser
"Farm-Land: embodied knowledge as a way mapping small-scale farms in Minnesota and Northern Ireland"
MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Global Food

Kristen Reynolds
"Toward a Black Speculative"
American Studies
MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Robotics

Rongwei Rita Tang
"Understanding People's Experience of Being Corrected"
Hubbard School of Journalism & Mass Communication
MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Global Food

Hanzhang Ye
"Building A Digital Nation: The Infrastructure for China’s Computing Industry"
Program in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine
MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Robotics

Ali Yildirim
"Whose Can (Life) Matters?: The Politics of Disaster Relief and Environmental Injustices in Turkey"
Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies
MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Environment

Summer 2023 Fellows

Summer 2023 Fellows

  • Oforiwaa Pee Agyei-Boakye
    “BRT in Johannesburg”
    Geography, Environment and Society
    MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Environment: Advancing Industry, Conserving our Environment
  • Camille Braun
    “Centering the Voices of People who Use Drugs in Strategies to Address the Overdose Crisis”
    Spanish and Portuguese Studies
    MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Brain Conditions: Discoveries and Treatments for Brain Conditions
  • Alter Hajek
    “The moveable organ”
    MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Brain Conditions: Discoveries and Treatments for Brain Conditions
  • DeWitt King
    “Infinite Supply: The Politics of Black Disposability in Sports”
    American Studies
    MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Brain Conditions: Discoveries and Treatments for Brain Conditions
  • Valeria Lopez Torres
    Strange love: emotional entanglements between humans and chatbots
    College of Design
    MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Robotics: Robotics, Sensors, and Advanced Manufacturing
  • Ibrahim Oker
    “Food Subsidy Policies in Authoritarian Regimes”
    Political Science
    MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Global Food Ventures
  • Jaan Sharma Pathak
    “Combining Remote Sensing and Qualitative Research to Study Riverine Erosion in the Brahmaputra River Valley (India)”
    Geography, Environment and Society
    MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Environment: Advancing Industry, Conserving our Environment

Summer 2022 Fellows

Summer 2022 Fellows

  • Catherine Bruns
    “Wine, Water, and Ways of Life: Mapping Community Wine Knowledge in Andalusia, Spain”

    Communication Studies
    MnDRIVE Thematic Areas: Global Food Ventures & Environment
  • Kadir Yavuz Emiroglu
    “Mapping Interviews in Ankara: Seeking Human within an Authoritarian City”

    MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Environment
  • Isaac Espósto
    “The Architecture and Algorithms of Borderland Confinement”

    Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies
    MnDRIVE Thematic Areas: Robotics & Environment
  • Aidan Neher
    “Network Analysis of Minnesota’s Aquatic Invasive Species Information Flows”

    MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Environment
  • Florencia Pech Cardenas
    “Linking TEK with Western Ecological Knowledge to Understand Forest Management and Governance in Maya Communities”

    Forest Resources
    MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Environment
  • Katherine Pierpont
    “Building Community: Mapping the property of 12th century sex workers”

    MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Environment
  • Pawan Sharma
    “Moving Tracts : Cuisines, Cultures, Communities from South Asia”

    Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
    MnDRIVE Thematic Area: Global Food Ventures
  • Michael Valdez
    “Palestine in your Parish: Church Performance and the Shaping of British Public Opinion on Middle East Expansion, 1891 to 1917”

    Theatre Arts & Dance
    MnDRIVE Thematic Areas: Global Food Ventures & Environment

Summer 2021 Fellows

Summer 2021 Fellows

  • Nicholas Bauch
    “The Shape of Water: Re-mediating limnological shape files into physical form”
    Art, College of Liberal Arts
    MnDRIVE Area: Environment
  • Christian Bell
    “Performing Citizen Science: Facilitating Interdisciplinary Creative Collaborations for a Public Audience at Franconia Sculpture Park”
    Theatre Arts and Dance, College of Liberal Arts
    MnDRIVE Area: Global Food
  • Elizabeth Calhoun
    “Our Unhoused Neighbors Are Our Neighbors: Encampments, Housing Affordability and Gentrification in Minneapolis”

    Geography, Environment, and Society; College of Liberal Arts
    MnDRIVE Area: Environment
  • Yun Feng
    “Between Limited Physical Space and Limitless Digital Space: Shifting Subjectivities within ‘Taobao Villages’ in Contemporary Rural China”

    Anthropology, College of Liberal Arts
    MnDRIVE Areas: Robotics, Global Food
  • Snigdha Kumar
    “Banking on/with Big Data: Decoding Value in India's Financial Technology Industry”

    Sociology, College of Liberal Arts
    MnDRIVE Area: Robotics
  • Stephanie Lindquist
    “Intergenerational Data in Art: Women Relearning Indigenous Food Sovereignty in Gorama Mende, Sierra Leone”

    Art, College of Liberal Arts
    MnDIVE Area: Global Food
  • Adam Negri
    “CTE and Research Paradigms: Advocating for Equity in Trauma-Related Brain Disease”

    History of Medicine, Medical School
    MnDRIVE Area: Brain Conditions
  • Brieanna Watters
    “Geographic Isolation and Indefinite Detention: Spatial and Temporal Inequality among American Indians in Pre-Trial Detention”

    Sociology, College of Liberal Arts
    MnDRIVE Areas: Robotics, Environment

Summer 2020 Fellows

2020 Fellows

The Summer 2020 MnDRIVE Human in the Data Fellows present their work.

Summer 2016 Fellows

  • Emma Bedor Hiland: (En)coding Inclusiveness in Smartphone Applications for Mentally Disordered Users
    This project explores the development of smartphone applications intended to treat mental disorder. Unlike other genres of mobile medical interventions, their creation often includes developers or consultants who have personal experience with mental illness. I suggest this presents a valuable model for inclusivity and diversity in coding.
  • Deniz Coral: Markets with Many Faces: The Role of Screens in the Financial Imagination
    This project explores the humanistic aspect of big data by investigating how the data appears on computer screens is culturally produced and interpreted by financial players. While screens are generally taken for granted either as mediums or background context of finance, this project challenges this perspective by exploring the ways in which financial players engage with their screens are pivotal for the visualization of financial data, which is contingent upon larger relationships of trust and institutional hierarchy.
  • Alexander Fink: Locating Human Possibility and Aspirations in Social Service Mass Data Collection Systems
    This project collaborates with a team of young people in a Youth Participatory Action Research study to critically investigate and understand the impacts of big data collection in social services on their lives, especially their sense of future possibility and aspirations.
  • Amelia Hassoun: Big Data, Big Futures: Imagining the Singaporean Smart Nation
    My dissertation project analyzes the production of Singapore as the world’s first truly ‘smart city’: a state-space enacting a data-driven future. Through ethnographic study, I examine how big data gathered from civic technologies inscribed in the urban fabric enumerates Singapore’s exceptionally diverse citizenry and brings imagined futures into being.
  • Katelin Krieg: Victorian Data Analysis and Visualization
    We assume that we have little to learn from Victorian Britain about data analysis and visualization. However, the correlation coefficient and scatterplot both emerged during this period. I juxtapose their inventors, Karl Pearson and Francis Galton, with novelist George Meredith to argue that these statistical and literary representations develop from the same philosophical concerns and had the same knowledge goals.
  • Alicia Lazzarini: Critically Expanding ‘Data’: Methods for Examining a Southern African Sugar Success
    My research expands the notion of data. Mobilizing qualitative, ethnographic and archival methods, I examine a sugar mill’s expansion data and development claims. Addressing labor and land, I analyze disconnects between industry and resident views of investment. I argue: development decisions must be made through diverse, not narrow information forms.
  • Lars MacKenzie: Accounting for Change: Big Data, Gender Transition and Financial Surveillance of Identity
    Big data has transformed financial services, enabling massive collection and networking of consumer data. This research examines how financial institutions manage data about transgender people who change their names, investigating how humans are produced, managed, regulated and normalized through data. I demonstrate that data enables multiple forms of discrimination against transgender people.
  • Stephen Savignano: Interaction / Machination: Thinking Machines through Interactive Computation
    My proposed research examines interactive paradigms in computer science, and the significance of understanding computation through interactions rather than algorithms. Anchored in the idea of artificial intelligence, interaction highlights humanizing possibilities and inhuman obstacles to asking, “Where is the human in the data?”
  • Link Swanson: User interfaces and the epistemology of the new computational cognitive revolution
    A recent trend in cognitive science leverages large-scale online databases to study human cognition. I argue that the viability of this approach hinges on a key epistemological concern: the role of the user interface in online data creation. I detail this concern and consider possible ways to address it.
  • Madison Van Oort: Well-Dressed Data: Workplace Surveillance in the World’s Top Retailers
    Data-based workplace monitoring is increasingly crucial to retail companies’ ability to slash labor costs. This ethnographic study of the booming fast fashion industry—which sells high volumes of trendy, cheap clothing—investigates how new management software gathers data about worker performance and shapes front-line employees’ relationships to work.

October 3, 2016
10 Questions for Critical Data Studies Workshop

Inclusiveness in smartphone apps, gender transition and financial surveillance of identity, workplace surveillance among the world’s top retailers . . . this workshop werved as the launching point for a critical data science study project that was jointly sponsored by the University of Minnesota Informatics Institute and the Institute for Advanced Study for the 2016 cohort of Human in the Data fellows, who participated in lightning talks and table discussions, developing “10 Questions for Critical Data Studies.” Click through to Youtube for the full schedule of presenters.

Past Events

Expand all

Helga Tawil-Souri: Towards an Infrastructural Ecology: An Internet Pigeon Network for Gaza


MARCH 31, 2022  •  3:30 p.m. CT  • online
Helga Tawil-Souri, 
Associate Professor, Media, Culture and Communication & Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, New York University

The Internet Pigeon Network (IPN) is a prototype-solution for internet access infrastructure based on homing pigeons in the Gaza Strip that is resilient, scalable, less open to surveillance and destruction, works without electricity and without reliance on the Israeli backbone, as well as is affordable, community-managed and owned, and environmentally sustainable. Economically it fosters job creation and new businesses, and saves the exorbitant costs of machinery and backbone connection through Israel. It provides a democratic, community-owned, participatory model where needs are assessed by the community rather than an ‘ideal’ of internet access that is technically (and economically) dependent, echoing recent examples of mesh networks and local WiFi programs. The IPN demonstrates how a community can plan and build a technical network by reliance on animals and the environment that neither exploits, monetizes, nor harms them, but harnesses pigeons’ locative abilities, presence, and intelligence, and supports and improves their urban existence. The IPN contributes to scholarly discussions about mobility, movement, and displacement. The IPN demonstrates how infrastructure can be beneficial ecological entities themselves, outcomes of the relations between humans, animals, and the local environment; and demonstrate that an ‘intelligent’ infrastructure or ‘smart’ city is about being symbiotic and ecologically connected. It proposes that infrastructure be informed and defined by ecological consciousness.

Elizabeth Wrigley-Field: The Deaths America Treats as Normal (November 2021)

NOVEMBER 18, 2021  •  3:30 p.m.
Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, 
Sociology, College of Liberal Arts, UMN Twin Cities

This talk explores racial disparities in mortality during U.S. pandemics, using the 1918 and COVID-19 pandemics to develop general frameworks for understanding inequality in pandemic experiences—and what they reveal about inequality during ordinary, non-pandemic times. The first part of the talk considers racial disparities during the most devastating respiratory pandemic of the 20th century, the 1918 flu; shows that those disparities were surprisingly small; and develops new hypotheses, grounded in social immunology, to account for this anomaly. The second part of the talk pivots from 1918 to 2020. During the 1918 pandemic, U.S. white mortality was still lower than U.S. Black mortality had been nearly every year. Today, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the same pattern holds: despite the pandemic, white mortality in 2020 was likely less than Black mortality has ever been. Using pandemic mortality as a measuring stick for racial disparities offers a new perspective on the measures we do — and do not — embrace in order to combat racial inequality. I use demographic mortality models to make a new, demographically based case for reparations for racism.

Elizabeth Wrigley-Field is an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Sociology and the Minnesota Population Center. She specializes in racial inequality in mortality and historical infectious disease and co-leads (with J.P. Leider) an ongoing project on COVID-19 mortality in Minnesota. She is also a quantitative methodologist, developing models designed to clarify relationships between micro and macro perspectives on demographic relationships.

Spring 2021 MnDRIVE Human in the Data Symposium (February 2021)

Deborah Lupton: Human-COVID-Digital: A More-than-Human Standpoint (November 2020)

Caitlin Rosenthal: Balance Sheets of Life and Death: Accounting for Slavery (October 2020)

Amelia McNamara: How Spatial Polygons Shape Our World: Geometry, Data, and Perceptions of Truth (September 2019)

Amelia McNamara
Computer & Information Sciences, University of St. Thomas

Borders often do not have much to do with the physical world. The edges of voting districts, cities, counties, states, and countries are decided by human processes, always implicitly if not explicitly political. Data are often provided pre­aggregated at a particular spatial polygon level. For example, data on poverty is collected at the block­group level, while data on education is easiest to obtain for school districts. This makes it difficult to combine data, and can lead to problems when data does not make sense at the level it was collected. In this talk, Amelia McNamara discusses issues related to spatial polygon choices, like gerrymandering and the Modifiable Areal Unit Problem.

Ece Kamar: The Real Promise of AI: How to Get AI-Human Collaboration to Work (April 2019)

Ece Kamar
Adaptive Systems and Interaction Group, Microsoft

While many celebrated efforts in Artificial Intelligence aim at exceeding human performance, the real promise of AI in real-world domains, such as healthcare and law, hinges on developing systems that can successfully support human experts. In this talk, Ece Kamar shares several directions of research her team at Microsoft is pursuing towards effective human-AI partnership in the open world, including combining the complementary strengths of human and machine reasoning, addressing concerns around trust, transparency and reliability, and using AI to improve human engagement.

Sorelle Friedler: Auditing, Explaining, and Ensuring Fairness in Algorithmic Systems (February 2018)

Sorelle Friedler
Data & Society Research Institute, Haverford College

Machine learning models are becoming increasingly opaque to human examination, even to their designers. Yet these models are also increasingly used to make high-stakes decisions; who goes to jail, what neighborhoods police deploy to, and who should be hired for a job. But how can we practically achieve accountability and transparency in the face of increasingly complex models? And how do we know if the algorithmic decisions are fair or discriminatory—what does it mean for an algorithm to be fair? Sorelle Friedler discusses work from the new and growing field of Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency in machine learning, examines societal notions of fairness and non-discrimination, and explains how these notions have been defined using a mathematical framework. She also discusses recently developed strategies for auditing black-box models when given access to their inputs and outputs and for white-box interpretability in decision-making.

Laila Shereen Sakr or, VJ Um Armel: Arab Future Trippings and Algorithmic Vision (May 2017)

Laila Shereen Sakr or, VJ Um Amel
Film and Media Studies, University of California Santa Cruz

Whether studying, designing or using algorithms, researchers need to understand how their questions intersect with the logics of automation and scale underpinning networked, computational platforms. In this lecture, VJ Um Amel presents a hybrid approach to analyzing various procedural algorithms, their relationship with their structured data (for example, tweets), and their impact on an Arabic-speaking virtual body politic. This investigation theorizes mediations of Middle Eastern activism, revolution, and migration. It begins by working through the challenges in producing knowledge that is analytically rigorous, durable, and is independent from various power centers and policy circles, securitized and militarized—and then exploring the emergence of new modes of knowledge production in an era of virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and large-scale violence.

10 Questions for Critical Data Studies Workshop (2016 Fellows)

October 3, 2016
10 Questions for Critical Data Studies Workshop

Inclusiveness in smartphone apps, gender transition and financial surveillance of identity, workplace surveillance among the world’s top retailers . . . this workshop werved as the launching point for a critical data science study project that was jointly sponsored by the University of Minnesota Informatics Institute and the Institute for Advanced Study for the 2016 cohort of Human in the Data fellows, who participated in lightning talks and table discussions, developing “10 Questions for Critical Data Studies.” Click through to Youtube for the full schedule of presenters.