The Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN) recently announced that the University of Massachusetts Amherst will become a member of the consortium, which includes more than 40 universities across the U.S. and is dedicated to promoting the public interest in a tech-driven world. The membership announcement coincides with the launch of the Public Interest Technology Initiative at UMass Amherst (PIT@UMass), a new, campus-wide program that seeks to expand course offerings, projects, certificates, and experiential learning that focus on social responsibility and ethical use of today’s technologies.
Professor Ethan Zuckerman of the School of Public Policy, director of the UMass Initiative for Digital Public Infrastructure, is cofounder and research director of PIT@UMass. Professor Charlie Schweik of the School of Public Policy and the Department of Environmental Conservation, is the associate director of public interest technology.
PIT-UN started in 2019 in order to build a network of colleges and universities that would build the field of public interest technology (PIT). PIT-UN is convened by New America, the Ford Foundation, and the Hewlett Foundation. To date, PIT-UN has invested $11.6 million in projects to build a skilled and diverse pipeline of public interest technology practitioners and researchers. PIT-UN members have developed 10 new public interest technology institutes and labs to facilitate interdisciplinary research and teaching, created 21 fellowships and communities of practice to share knowledge and best practices, and offered more than 60 new or reimagined courses under the public interest technology umbrella that have begun to shape clear degree pathways.
“UMass Amherst is committed to the goals and mission of Public Interest Technology and is eager to join this network of pro-active and engaged fellow universities,” says UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. “Our goal is to increase our education, research, practice, and outreach offerings with respect to social responsibility and technology awareness across the UMass Amherst campus and at our new affiliate campus at Mt. Ida. We also intend the program to provide a foundation for partnering more broadly within the UMass system, and with institutions and organizations regionally and nationally.”
PIT-UN’s announcement amplifies UMass Amherst’s own commitment to PIT, which has been formalized in a new initiative, PIT@UMass, which aims to develop and coordinate educational, research, practice, and outreach offerings across UMass Amherst’s diverse schools and colleges. The program will empower students and the broader community with the skills and information needed to promote personal and professional social responsibility.
“PIT focuses on using technology to address problems in a socially responsible way, and the PIT@UMass community has fellow travelers in a broad and diverse set of areas across campus,” says Francine Berman, director of the PIT initiative and Stuart Rice Research Professor at UMass Amherst’s Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS). Ethan Zuckerman, an associate professor of public policy, communication, and information at CICS, adds that “PIT serves as a critical foundation for 21st-century education, for people who create technologies and those who work with them, which is all of us.”
Membership in PIT-UN will strengthen UMass Amherst’s efforts to build PIT@UMass by providing a strong, nation-spanning network of top-tier institutions with a similar commitment to the public interest. Status as a PIT-UN member will also attract faculty and students with an interest in social responsibility, as well as enhance UMass Amherst’s partnerships with collaborators, funders, and communities.
“Public Interest Technology was born of a desire to make the world a better place," says Berman. “That desire is something many of us feel at this moment and it’s an investment in a better future because today’s students will become tomorrow’s professionals, public servants, and citizens. They, and we, want their efforts to benefit the world.”
— By Daegan Miller, UMass Amherst News Office
Photos: Top: Charlie Schweik and Ethan Zuckerman. Middle: Francine Berman.
About the School of Public Policy: Established in 2016, the UMass Amherst School of Public Policy prepares students for leadership in public service. The program’s focuses include social change and public policy related to science and technology.
Contact: Maureen Turner, associate director for marketing and communications, School of Public Policy