Leading Public Interest Technology Group Doubles Down on Equity

Press Release
Feb. 6, 2023

Media Contact: Kip Dooley, dooley@newamerica.org

Washington, D.C. — Three Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and a nationally recognized racial justice expert are joining the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN).

First convened by New America, the Ford Foundation and Hewlett in 2019, PIT-UN aims to inspire the next generation of young technologists – including engineers, designers, computer and data scientists – to pursue work in service of the public interest. Its member colleges and universities have galvanized government and industry interest in the burgeoning field of public interest technology, while advancing ambitious research agendas, building interdisciplinary research centers and developing career pathways for technologists-in-training.

Given the many ways that digital technologies have worsened racial inequalities, PIT-UN aims to make racial equity a mainstream norm within technology design and deployment. Lane College (Tenn.), Meharry Medical College (Tenn.) and Prairie View A&M (Texas) are the Network's three newest minority serving institution (MSI) members, and have big plans for their inaugural year in PIT-UN.

Lane College will invest further in their already-successful 10 Block Project, which applies a public interest technology approach to community outreach and science education in the 10 blocks surrounding the college in the city of Jackson. Meharry Medical College plans to develop a Center for Telehealth Tools for Students and Stakeholders (CTTSS) to improve health access for local community members, and Prairie View A&M will organize a student club to document and discuss the impacts of public interest technology on minority communities.

Sheetal Dhir, the new Equity/MSI Fellow for PIT at New America, will strengthen the Network’s equity, inclusion and justice strategy while working with MSI members to develop and sustain their PIT programs.

“I know firsthand that the functionality of our democracy and the future of technology are inextricably linked,” says Dhir, formerly the Senior Advisor to the President at Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization. “Digital technologies are central to our daily lives and institutions, and it is incumbent upon us to develop approaches to tech design and deployment that ensures civil rights and liberties.”

Dhir brings over 10 years of experience in racial justice work to her role at New America, including stints at Spitfire Strategies, Amnesty International US and the American Civil Liberties Union. She began her career as a broadcast journalist, contributing to Al-Jazeera and ABC News among other mainstream outlets. Dhir will work with members to ensure that those most affected by policy problems will have access to public interest tech careers, and the resources to contribute to technology design, policy and deployment.

“There is no doubt in my mind that in the coming years we are going to need technologists who are civically minded and prominently placed in the C-suites of all the major tech companies. Ensuring the success of PIT-UN is a critical step to making that happen and I am honored to be on the ground floor of this effort," adds Dhir.

PIT-UN’s work is funded through the support of the Ford Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, Mastercard Impact Fund, with support from the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, The Raikes Foundation, Schmidt Futures and The Siegel Family Endowment.