As a fellow at the US Digital Commission, the graduate performs work in the public interest

Media, Law and Politics

Alumna Chizobam Nwagwu ’18 (Neuroscience/Politics Studies) is currently in the inaugural group for the US Digital Commission (USDC) Fellows. The American digital band launch Last year to hire early-career technicians to work as priority projects in five skill tracks: software engineering, data science, analytics, product management, design, and cybersecurity. Fellows will work on projects in a wide range of areas, including health, immigration, customer experience, and equity.

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

  • 01

    What inspired you to join USDC? What do you do in your job role?

    chizopam nwajo

    chizopam nwajo

    In graduate school, I was introduced to technology of the public interest – essentially operating at the intersection of technology, public policy, and design. Since then, I have enjoyed working on projects in partnership with local and state government employees using user research, design, and technology to prototype solutions to important policy problems.

    After getting an opportunity to work in the federal government as a Coding it Forward Fellow at the US Department of Health and Human Services, I realized that I really enjoyed working in the public service and using my technical, research, and policy skills to improve government service delivery and work in the public interest. The US Digital Authority’s experience truly aligns with my long-term professional interest in doing work in the public interest. I was also looking for jobs where I could receive mentorship and opportunities to lead important work. Being able to work in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) really aligns with my personal interests in public health and politics. I’m a Product Manager at Digital Service at CMS (DSAC).

    As a new employee, I appreciate the opportunity to move on to different projects. Our team supports the transformation of the US 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

    I was a winter researcher at the Aspen Tech Policy Hub earlier this year and worked on designing and creating quality tech policy and urban technology to address influential public sector challenges. Why is this so important? Where have you seen it make a difference?

    The Aspen Tech Hub Policy Introductory Program was a 10-week program where technologists learned and applied the policy process. This experience has helped me see concretely how policy and technology can be combined to improve government service delivery.

    For example, the White House and the US Treasury have partnered with Code for America to create a tool for families to easily sign up for monthly child tax credit payments during the pandemic. By utilizing user-centric approaches to reduce the administrative burden for applicants, this service quickly provided important assistance to millions of families.

  • 03

    During your undergraduate studies at Syracuse University, you spent seven weeks as a fellow in the Public Policy and International Affairs Program at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Please tell us about that experience.

    Heard about the PPIA Junior Summer Institute (JSI) program through Jolynn Parker, Director of the University Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising. The program is designed to expose individuals from underrepresented backgrounds in public policy to graduate and employment policy programs.

    For 10 weeks, my group of 18 fellows took graduate-level courses at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs while engaging in experimental policy projects. My experience in Minnesota confirmed and reinforced my interest in pursuing public policy in graduate school. I made lifelong friends who shared the same sentiments and variety, met mentors who provided constant support and learned a lot about the history of the Twin Cities. Of all the JSI sites, the University of Minnesota program stood out due to its clear focus on social justice. My favorite courses were those taught by Dr. Greg Lindsay (Policy Analysis 101) and Dr. Samuel Myers (Race and Politics). Because of this opportunity, I joined Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University to pursue a master’s degree in Public Policy and Management.

  • 04

    I also received a Fulbright Research Scholarship for Nigeria during the 2018-19 academic year. What is the topic of this research, and how are you incorporating it into your work today?

    My research focused on surveying youth attitudes towards drug use in Lagos. I designed and distributed surveys across six LGAs in the state and my small team of local college students interviewed various community leaders. This work has provided me with a first-hand understanding of the value of user research and the importance of raising community voices in policy design.

  • 05

    Where do you see yourself in the future?

    I see myself continuing to engage in work in the public interest.

  • 06

    In your spare time, you are a gardener and you have tried your hand at growing okra this year. How to go?

    Unfortunately, okra was not made this year. However, I have grown a ton of bananas, peppers, tomatoes, and sunflowers. I am certainly a novice gardener, but I have enjoyed trying to grow new things.

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