Northwestern Launches New Era of MAPSCorps

Northwestern Launches New Era of MAPSCorps

mapscorps.jpgMAPSCorps trained young people to conduct an annual census of resources in their community. Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) is launching a new iteration of MAPSCorps, a national model for training and employing high school and college students to work in STEM as community data scientists.

The new initiative will help children from underserved communities learn how to use, collect, and analyze large amounts of data to make their communities healthier and more vibrant. The new program will also serve as a pipeline for potential data science and STEM careers.

MAPSCorps, as a freestanding non-profit entity, is closing. Nia Abdullah, formerly MAPSCorps’ executive director, along with other key team members, will join the Digital Youth Network (DYN) lab of Nichole Pinkard, the Alice Hamilton Professor of Learning Sciences in the School of Education and Social Policy.

Pinkard, co-founder and lead of Digital Youth Network, has asked Abdullah to join Northwestern and serve as the executive director to oversee this new initiative as part of the Digital Youth Network. The program will connect Northwestern’s interdisciplinary faculty with MAPSCorps community partners and practices to expand the initiative’s scope and scale.

"Over the past 15 years, MAPSCorps equipped a wide diversity of young people with the skills and credentials they needed to become data-informed community change agents,” Abdullah said. "Connecting this work to Pinkard’s lab answers growing demand from federal and local funders for proven, scalable and evidence-based programs that engage and excite young people about STEM careers early in their education."

MAPSCorps began in 2008 and grew out of the South Side Health and Vitality Studies, led by the interdisciplinary research laboratory of Stacy Tessler Lindau, the Catherine Lindsay Dobson Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Medicine at the University of Chicago.

The program trained young people to conduct an annual census of resources in their community by mapping everything from businesses and land bank properties to homeless encampments and vacant lots. The data are cleaned and made publicly available for use by researchers, community organizations, government agencies, and others.

“Poor quality data about community resources is wasteful, misleading, and a barrier to community flourishing,” Lindau said. “Young people want to see, know, and share with others the assets of their communities. Only by knowing what the existing assets are can we leverage them for healthier, stronger communities and see the gaps ready to be filled with new ideas."

Through her Digital Youth Network, Pinkard has created multiple programs to increase access and equity. This includes the Cities Learn platform, a resource schools and community groups in several states use to connect young people with activities in their schools, libraries, park districts, and community spaces.

“We will continue to train youth to gather high-quality data about a wide range of community assets, and we’ll use those data to drive key decisions and policies across education, employment and other sectors,” Pinkard said. "We will have an end-to-end solution, with youth at the helm, for deeply understanding communities and identifying points for meaningful intervention.”

MAPSCorps teams previously mapped 61 of Chicago’s 77 community areas, building a data set of more than 40,000 active assets. The Cook County Land Bank Authority, for example, used it to map vacant properties and promote land redevelopment and reuse to revitalize communities. Students, in addition to working with a smartphone and custom app, receive on-the-ground training in data collection and gain skills in communication, critical thinking, and data literacy.

More than 90% of the high school students who have worked on MAPSCorps teams identify as African American, Latino, Native Hawaiian and live in in historically under-resourced communities where STEM jobs are scarce.

"The power of MAPSCorps has been felt by so many young adults, particularly on Chicago's South Side, for nearly 15 years,” said Carlos Nelson, CEO of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation, an early and longstanding partner, and founding board member of MAPSCorps.

“The fact that it will now nest in the capable and innovative hands of Professor Pinkard at Northwestern means that MAPSCorps’ legacy will be felt for many years to come, and our youth, families, and communities will be the beneficiaries."

Laura Van Peenan (Kellogg MBA '94), another longstanding board member of MAPSCorps, said “Our work grew with support from a wide range of Chicago philanthropies, achieving impact locally and nationally. This new initiative with Northwestern is the right opportunity for growth at the right time.”

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 3/2/23