People walking down a crowded street in Istanbul
Data Science for the Public Good

The University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute Helps to Bring Data Science for the Public Good Young Scholars Program to Turkey

A partnership with the University of Virginia and a successful pilot program helped the Kodluyoruz Association attract a grant from the U.S. Embassy in Turkey, giving the nonprofit an opportunity to continue to cultivate a Data Science for the Public Good Young Scholars program in the municipalities of Istanbul and Ankara.

The grant will allow an additional 120 students from different disciplines to be trained in using data science to improve the quality of life and inform public policy in their communities. Sixty students have already completed the expanded program and the rest will do so this summer.

In addition, the grant supports the creation of a free, online course in Turkish to train the public to use data science to address complex problems in their communities. Citizens can also participate in study groups to better understand how to use data science tools.

The DSPG Young Scholars program was established by UVA’s Biocomplexity Institute in 2015 to prepare a research-ready workforce with the experience to put data to practical use. The program aims to foster a new generation of researchers and data scientists who will shape their fields and serve the public good by working on real-world global problems.

The Biocomplexity Institute and Kodluyoruz partner with several entities in Turkey to deliver the DSPG Young Scholars program: the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, social enterprises and local municipalities in Ankara, Center for Applied Data Science and lstasyonTEDU. The program launched in Turkey as a pilot in 2020, and provided Institute faculty, staff, and students an opportunity for meaningful interactions with individuals outside of the United States, helping to cultivate a vibrant and global community in higher education.

Gizem Korkmaz, co-leader of the DSPG Young Scholars program and associate professor in the Biocomplexity Institute’s Social and Decision Analytics division, provides leadership, guidance and support to the Kodluyoruz Association team.

She said, “Our partnership in Turkey has been very successful and it’s gratifying to see the DSPG Young Scholars program proliferate outside of UVA and the United States. Kodluyoruz Association has been a wonderful collaborator and continues to provide a valuable learning experience for students and a beneficial resource to community leaders in Istanbul and Ankara.”

Hands-On, Real World Experience for Tomorrow’s Leaders

Similar to the UVA program, DSPG young scholars in Turkey gain research experience, expert instruction in using statistical computing tools, and opportunities to engage with decision-makers in industry and government agencies. Teams of students collaborate with their local metropolitan municipality, and other public and civil society organizations, to tackle real-world projects that address social, economic, or environmental challenges and improve citizens’ lives.

One project that DSPG young scholars from Ankara worked on is developing a prototype of a rural agricultural production system that makes growing methods more resistant to climate change. The students used climate, agricultural production, and geographical data from several areas in the Ankara region to develop the prototype.

A former scholar, Ezgi Karakuş, was quickly hired by a technology company after finishing her training and now works as a data scientist. “I knew I would learn a lot, but I didn’t expect an immediate impact on my career. But I think my experience made me stand out when this job opportunity came up,” she says.

According to Gülcan Yayla, co-founder and CEO of Kodluyoruz, the young scholars’ training not only helps students prepare for careers but improves the communities in which they will work. “We train young people to use data science and look at how they can bring social and economic benefits to Turkey. It’s very rewarding to see that the municipalities want to implement the projects our students work on,” she says.

Last year, the Institute also worked with Iowa State University, Oregon State University, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University to create a three-state Coordinated Innovation Network, helping the universities to create their own DSPG Young Scholars programs. Iowa State and Virginia Tech plan to host the program again this summer.

The 2021 DSPG Young Scholars program at UVA begins in the coming weeks with a new group of undergraduate and graduate students joining the University for summer learning.