U.S. Census Bureau Recruits UMass Icons Program Students to work on Equitable Access to Electrical Power
Students from UMass Amherst’s Integrated Concentration in STEM (iCons) Program were recently recruited by the U.S. Census Bureau’s The Opportunity Project (TOP) for a 10-week sprint challenge called “Improving Access to Electrical Power for Climate Resilience,” which is helping the Department of Energy (DOE) to more equitably address lapses in the electrical grid during emergency situations.
American society increasingly depends on electricity, but more frequent extreme weather events are disrupting Americans’ access to power, especially in low-income and historically marginalized communities. To address this problem, the DOE and TOP have challenged the sprint teams, which include those from UMass and eight other top universities, to create user-friendly digital tools and analyses to ensure that communities overburdened by power outages are not left behind as electrification advances towards an equitable, clean energy future.
The UMass iCons team includes six juniors and seniors—Suhani Chawla, Jose Cruz Mendez, Anvitha Ramachandran, Kushagra Srivastava, Sarojini Torchon and Gabby Walczak—majoring in computer science, mathematics and computer systems engineering. These students were chosen to participate by the iCons Program based on their interest and prior training in the topic. They will collaborate during the fall 2023 semester and earn iCons credit for their work.
“This invitation provides an outstanding opportunity for UMass iCons students to hone their problem-solving prowess on a sticky problem,” said Scott Auerbach, Mahoney Family Sponsored Executive Director of the iCons Program. “It also demonstrates how our strengths in interdisciplinary education and problem-based research have earned UMass Amherst and its iCons Program a leadership position in the landscape of American higher education.”
The UMass iCons team is expected to demonstrate a prototype solution by Dec. 2023. They will receive unique access to federal datasets on power outages to inform their work and will receive mentorship from national experts in end-user needs, digital product design and data analytics—all coordinated by TOP.
“This project with UMass iCons and our mentors will be an amazing opportunity,” said team member and UMass Amherst senior Srivastava. “Working on real-world solutions to address power outage disparities is inspiring and impactful. I’m thankful for the opportunity to contribute and learn, and I hope to see the positive change our efforts will bring to underserved communities.”