By Lauti Cantar
In July 2016, I was sitting in an office in Argentina working as a financial analyst for an international consulting firm, talking about revenue, margins, and costs in projects that only benefit corporations and shareholders with no or little positive impact on society.
Fast-forward to October 2017 and I am sitting in an office in Boston working as an urban data science fellow for a nonprofit organization, designing and developing a tool that will help voucher holders relocate to better areas within the city. I’m having an indirect impact on their lives.
What happened in the 15 months between July 2016 and October 2017? I joined Northeastern’s MS in Urban Informatics Program and the Boston Area Research Initiative (BARI), and I am absolutely glad that that happened.
Are you wondering how I got to Northeastern University? Me too! I was awarded the Argentine Presidential Fellowship in Science and Technology, a Fulbright-managed scholarship. After an exhaustive program search, I applied and was accepted into the MS in Urban Informatics, where I am currently a second-year student.
Most of the classes I had during my first year were fundamental to change my professional profile. I learned computer and programming skills; I studied the basic theories of urban studies and found new questions and mind-blowing answers; and I learned visualization and mapping tools.
During my first semester, I started looking into Boston’s business licenses in “Big Data for Cities,” an introductory course to the Urban Informatics program. At the end of the term, I was invited to join the BARI team doing research on business licenses in the city. Through BARI, I have met people from diverse backgrounds and nationalities, and I have worked on real-life problems with public data, thinking and developing methodologies, which has been a great learning opportunity.
This summer, I became an intern at The American City Coalition (TACC), a nonprofit organization focused on neighborhood revitalization. But before telling you about my experience at TACC, let me ask you the following questions: Have you ever looked for an apartment? If so, you sure know how hard it is. Now, picture how much harder it is for a family with a housing voucher. So how can we help a family find an apartment in a high opportunity area that is under the voucher threshold? How can we help 10 families who are looking for apartments in a wide range of areas across Boston? What data do we have available, and what data can we build? These are the questions we face at TACC.
At TACC, I have the opportunity to use all the skills I learned during my first year at Northeastern University for a good cause. We are helping voucher holders find housing listings webpages in moderate, high, or very high areas. Each person receives a file with the listings in their neighborhoods of interest. In the next stage of the project, we want folks to receive phone and email alerts.
Spider Man’s uncle Ben used to say, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Education and training provide great power. We, therefore, must use it with great responsibility, helping those that need us the most.
Lauti Cantar is a recipient of the Argentine Presidential Fellowship in Science and Technology, a Fulbright-managed scholarship. He is a second-year student in the MS in Urban Informatics Program and a research assistant at the Boston Area Research Initiative. He is currently interning at The American City Coalition.