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As U.S. Digital Corps Fellow, Alumna Does Work That Serves the Public Interest

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Alumna Chizobam Nwagwu ’18 (neuroscience/policy studies) currently serves in the inaugural cohort of US Digital Corps (USDC) Fellows. The US Digital Corps launched last year to recruit budding technologists to work on priority projects in five skill trajectories: software engineering, data science and analytics, product management, design and cybersecurity. Fellows will work on projects in a wide variety of areas, including health, immigration, customer experience and equality.

Below, she shares about this experience and her time at Syracuse University.

  • 01

    What inspired you to join the USDC? What do you do in your position?

    Chizobam Nwagwu

    In graduate school, I learned about technology of common interest — basically working at the intersection of technology, public policy, and design. Since then, I’ve enjoyed working on projects in collaboration with local and national government officials, using user research, design, and technology to prototype solutions to key policy problems.

    After I had the opportunity to work in the federal government as a Coding it Forward Fellow in the United States Department of Health and Human Services, I realized that I really enjoyed working in the public service and my technical, research and use policy skills to public service and work in the public interest. The US Digital Corps experience really aligns with my long-term career interests of doing work that serves the public interest. I was also looking for jobs where I could get mentorship and opportunities to lead important work. Working at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) really fits my personal interests in public health and policy. I am a product manager at the Digital Service at CMS (DSAC).

    As a new employee I have appreciated the opportunity to jump into different projects. Our team supports the transformation of the U.S. healthcare system by modernizing systems, improving the design of healthcare experiences, participating in policy development, and delivering value to government, healthcare providers and patients.

  • 02

    You were an Aspen Tech Policy Hub Winter Scholar earlier this year, working on designing and creating sound engineering policy and societal technology to address impactful challenges in the public sector. Why is this so important? Where have you seen the difference?

    The Aspen Tech Policy Hub Policy Primer Program was a 10-week program in which technologists learned and applied the policy process. This experience has helped me to see tangibly how policy and technology can be linked to improve government services.

    For example, the White House and the U.S. Treasury Department partnered with Code for America to create a tool that makes it easy for families to sign up for monthly Child Tax Credit payments during the pandemic. By leveraging user-centric approaches to reduce the administrative burden on applicants, this service has quickly provided significant assistance to millions of families.

  • 03

    During your college years at Syracuse University, you spent seven weeks as a Public Policy and International Affairs Program Fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Tell us about that experience.

    I heard about the PPIA Junior Summer Institute (JSI) program through Jolynn Parker, the director of the University’s Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising. The program is designed to expose individuals from backgrounds that are underrepresented in public policy to policy programs and career opportunities.

    For 10 weeks, my cohort of 18 fellows took graduate-level courses at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs while engaged in experiential policy projects. My experience in Minnesota confirmed and strengthened my interest in pursuing public policy in graduate school. I made lifelong friends who shared the same and diverse passions, met mentors who supported me constantly, and learned a lot about the history of the Twin Cities. Of all the JSI sites, the University of Minnesota program stood out for their clear emphasis on social justice. My favorite courses were those of Dr. Greg Lindsey (Policy Analysis 101) and Dr. Samuel Myers (Race and Policy). Because of this opportunity, I attended Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College to pursue a master’s degree in public policy and management.

  • 04

    You have also received a Fulbright research grant to Nigeria in the 2018-2019 academic year. What was the theme of that research and how do you integrate it into your work today?

    My research focused on examining young people’s attitudes to drug use in Lagos. I designed and distributed surveys across six local government areas across the state, and my small team of local college students conducted interviews with several community leaders. That work gave me first-hand insight into the value of user research and the importance of raising the voices of the community in policy design.

  • 05

    Where do you see yourself in the future?

    I see myself continuing with work that serves the public interest.

  • 06

    In your spare time you are a gardener and this year you tried growing okra. How did it go?

    Unfortunately my okra didn’t make it this year. However, I did grow a ton of banana peppers, tomatoes and sunflowers. I am definitely a novice gardener, but I have enjoyed growing new things.

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