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Center for Community-Based Learning

Florida Data Science for Social Good


A partnership between local non-profits and UNF

Florida Data Science for Social Good [FL-DSSG] blends data science and technology design to solve important social problems. 


Five UNF interns worked throughout the summer of 2017 to help solve a “wicked” problem for 3 separate community partners: the Mayo Clinic, Changing Homelessness, and Yoga 4 Change. Each partner was interested in helping the community address health disparities. A “wicked” problem is a vexing, persistent social or cultural issue that is complex in nature, interconnected with other problems, and requires many people working together to affect change. For the Mayo Clinic, the interns were tasked with helping to develop a process to decide which neighborhoods to serve with focused health resources.  Data analysis included creating neighborhood profiles of health outcomes, community assets, demographic factors, and environmental factors for their Rx Wellness Program. The students assisted Changing Homelessness by generating profiles of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness to identify effective interventions to achieve functional zero (more homeless being housed than households becoming homeless) on a monthly basis. The Yoga 4 Change interns analyzed the impacts of the yoga curriculum to determine whether it helped individuals overcome stress.


What is especially remarkable about this partnership is the rich collaboration among faculty from 5 different departments and leadership from 7 different Jacksonville agencies. Dr. Karthikeyan Umapathy (School of Computing) and Dr. Dan Richard (Department of Psychology) were the Program Directors.  The Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida funded the project. Students received mentorship from within UNF and from the business community. Faculty from the School of Computing, the Departments of Public Health, Mathematics and Statistics, and Political Science and Public Administration  mentored students as they worked with the data. Two businesses—the Jacksonville Jaguars and EverBank provided industry “Sherpas.”  In addition the Advisory Board, including members from NLP Logix, Fidelity Investments in Florida the Jacksonville Jaguars, provided direction to the overall project. 

The differences among the clients—The Mayo Clinic, Changing Homelessness, and Yoga 4 Change—in themselves reveal a feature of “wicked” problems: health disparities are connected with other problems. The depth of the commitment—participants from 10 professional perspectives highlights the final characteristic of a "wicked" problem: they require many people working together to affect change.


Over 100 people attended “The Big Reveal”—the results of the students’ work—at the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida on August 7, 2017 at 5:30 pm. Dr. Umapathy introduced the audience to the process: 1] identify a nonprofit with a wicked problem; 2] gather data and formulate a plan; 3] analyze the data; 4] improve decision-making process for the nonprofit client.  With the support of industry mentors, called “Sherpa’s” because of the challenge of the work, psychology majors Evan Copello, Rachel Carpenter and Gregory Rousis collaborated with Computing majors  Hinal Pandya and Jason Smith. Rena Coughlin, the CEO of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida, who had advance notice of what the students’ work would show told the crowd, “Some things we will hear today are way bigger than I anticipated.  We need to tell this story.”


  • The Homelessness team worked with data from the Homeless Management Information System to identify the most vulnerable populations. They developed a Dignity Index, which measures Safety, Respect, Control, and Meaningful Daily Activity; this data seems essential in solving homelessness.  
  • The Mayo team drilled down in their data and found different health problems—diabetes, heart disease, and stroke—were not found across all marginal areas. Each was clustered in three different low-income Jacksonville neighborhoods.  
  • The Yoga team, while working with blood pressure data from four populations (those incarcerated or in re-entry, those with substance abuse problems, Veterans, and vulnerable youth) found that at the end of the yoga curriculum, individuals in the Hypertension Stage 2 category had moved to either Hypertension Stage 1 or Ideal BP, and the number of people in the Ideal BP range increased from 55 to 117, as indicated in the chart on the right. 


What was the impact on the three clients?  Yoga 4 Change CEO Kathryn Thomas watched the students present their findings and exclaimed, “Oh my gosh: it works! We started it because we knew it worked, but to see this impact gives us hope. It's hard to find donor support. This is huge for our next steps: we will make drastic changes in how we approach donors. I want to thank you because you have blown my mind.”    

Ann Marie Knight, of the Mayo, said to her, “We need to talk.” Perhaps another partnership is blooming.  Ms. Knight turned to the students and said, “You have created a tool we can use across the region and I thank you for that. We will use it for our future good; we can see where to focus” on specific neighborhoods.  [Tool: Jacksonville Community Health Neighborhood Comparison]


One of the students, in thinking back at the start of the internship said, “I didn't know I had the mental capacity to do this large of a project.” He said, “this project is genius –using data to solve real-world problems.” Another student said, she “loved the opportunity to work with problems that were so important.”  And a third commented it was “the perfect way for me to give back.”


Dan Richard, one of the professors who created Florida Data for Social Good, told the audience at the conclusion of the Big Reveal that those involved are “social trustees of knowledge. “We have an obligation as a public university to give back our knowledge." Provost Earle Traynam affirms Dr. Richard's point saying, "I have always been impressed by the quality of work that our students accomplish, especially under the direction of Karthik and Dan.  It is such a great combination of student learning, community engagement and improving our community." 

For more information about the FL-DSSG program, please visit: