Q&A Let’s Make it Count: Ask Questions, Explore Data, Share Insights

November 12, 2020

Let's Make it Count     

Picture: Let’s Make It Count was announced at SXSW 2019, with a series of panels and events. The Innovation Playbook for Local Government featured (Left to Right) Xavier Hughes, Meredith Lee, Ron Jarmin, and Jeff Meisel.

When Jeff Meisel, former Chief Marketing Officer for the U.S. Census Bureau, joined the West Big Data  Innovation Hub as a Senior Fellow in 2018, he started collaborating with the Hub’s Executive Director Meredith Lee on the Let’s Make It Count initiative. They started with the question: “What is our biggest opportunity to improve data science education?”  

Announced at SXSW 2019 with a series of government innovation panels and interactive community events, the initiative was incubated further with feedback from teachers during the 2019 National Data Science Education Workshop to develop a data competition for high school students. 

In partnership with the Census Bureau’s Statistics in Schools program, the national competition is open to U.S. teachers and students in grades 9-12 to submit their stories until December 31, 2020. Submissions can include but are not limited to posters, infographics, essays, captioned photos, interactive or static data visualizations, apps, and websites

Let's Make it Count

Lee and Meisel shared more about the importance of Let’s Make it Count and the National Census Data Competition, noting opportunities to get involved online through the end of the year.

Community events in the early days of the initiative asked participants for their ideas and reflections about data science education.

Q: What was the inspiration behind starting Let’s Make it Count? 

Meisel: The inspiration behind Let’s Make it Count is the notion that a student’s zip code shouldn’t determine their access to critical STEM skills development opportunities. Data literacy and data skills are more important than ever. With the 2020 first-ever digital Census “Get out the Count” efforts reaching every public school in the country, partnering with Statistics in Schools was a way to ensure the broadest reach possible. 

Lee: The partnership with the Census and the Statistics in Schools program is really synergistic with the vision of CDSS (Computing, Data Science, and Society). When Jeff and I were brainstorming how to connect with and support such a diverse group of participants -- potentially 56.6 million public school students across the country -- we were inspired by the growth and reach of the Data Science Education Program’s open curriculum, and the potential to generate a movement on a much broader scale. 

Q: How are you getting the word out to students and administrators to engage with Let’s Make it Count in the midst of distance learning?

Meisel: The Junior Ambassador Program helps us to identify those students that want to take an active role to help promote data science in their schools and districts. It gives us a vehicle to help recruit in their schools and encourage participation from their broader communities. 

We're also reaching out through the Let’s Make it Count podcast. It’s really about creating awareness. We are finding advocates in the broader technology community who not only work with data but are also parents and teachers. They are intermediates to the students who can become our advocate community and then those folks can help refer us into their local networks. 

Lastly, we are also relying on our anchor partnerships with companies such as Canva, Mapbox, and Tableau that are lending their expertise and helping us to create materials and content for our Let’s Make It Count virtual summit.

Q: How do you go about selecting who to feature on the Let’s Make it Count podcast?

Meisel: Part of it is we want to offer inspiration for the students so they can find people in different disciplines and careers related to data. Maybe they want to become a data scientist or they want to play another role in the field. We look for mentors so we can spotlight their career path and the challenges they have overcome so the students can see what’s possible for their future.

Lee: The podcast reminds me of the “career days” in my K-12 public school experience, where, as students, we were able to hear about what it’s like to be a firefighter, interior designer, or marine biologist. Data science touches so many career trajectories -- one week we could highlight sports analytics and the next podcast might dive into the data used in agriculture or by entrepreneurs starting a taco business. We’re excited to highlight a variety of data careers and to share tutorials and open access tools with the community.

Q: What is the key takeaway you want to convey about Let’s Make it Count?

Meisel: We want students and teachers everywhere to ask questions, explore data, and share what they have learned. Let’s Make it Count is aimed at helping the next generation view their community and world through a data lens, introducing valuable data skills to our future workforce. As a first step, UC Berkeley, NSF, and the West Big Data Hub are excited to support and encourage participation in the National Census Data Competition running through December 31st.