"Civic hacking" is an increasingly popular way for people skilled in programming and data crunching to give back to their community. Through organized Hack-a-thons or groups such as Open City and Code for America, volunteers imaginatively transform enormous tables of numbers into user-friendly web and mobile tools that bring localized and interactive information about a city to its citizens. From simple questions such as "has my street been plowed yet?" to more complex visualizations of zoning laws or crime patterns, these apps are changing the interaction between cities and their residents and creating an exciting new spirit of civic participation. As WBEZ recently profiled, Chicago is home to one of the most vibrant city data communities in the world, with government, academia and volunteer coders working together to create new analytics and tools.

This summer, the Computation Institute and the Urban Center for Computation and Data will further nurture these efforts with The Eric and Wendy Schmidt 'Data Science for Social Good' Summer Fellowship. From early June to late August, aspiring data scientists will congregate in Chicago to work on the application of data and computation to urgent real-world problems with members of the Obama campaign analytics team and experts from the business world and academia, including the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory. Projects addressing questions in education, health, energy, transportation and other spheres will be developed in interdisciplinary teams overseen by advisors including Google's Eric Schmidt and Rayid Ghani, chief scientist for Obama 2012.

"The kind of students we are trying to recruit are those with strong computational and quantitative backgrounds, who are interested in working on large social problems but haven't really had the opportunity, and don't know where to go or what to do," Ghani said. "The goal of the fellowship is to solve some concrete problems in the summer but also, long-term, to create a culture of data scientists thinking about social problems."

In a little over two weeks, the fellowship received 520 applications from across the country. Those interested in serving as mentor or partners for the fellowship should contact the organizers at datasciencefellowship@uchicago.edu.

Graphic created by Edifice.