Cal Poly Joins Network of Leading Universities to Help Ensure Technology Creates Public Benefit

Funding from Public Interest Technology University Network Available Through Cal Poly Internal Competition 

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Cal Poly has joined the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN), a partnership that fosters collaboration between universities and colleges committed to building the nascent field of public interest technology and training a new generation of civic-minded technologists.

As a part of this collaboration, Cal Poly has launched an internal competition for the Public Interest Technology Grants, which provide up to $180,000 funded by PIT-UN to support research and training at the intersection of technology and public benefit. Proposals selected from Cal Poly will be submitted to the PIT-UN national competition. Faculty may apply through this link. (Note: This page requires a Cal Poly portal account to access.) 

The public interest technology field is dedicated to leveraging technology to support public interest organizations and the people they serve. At Cal Poly, research projects related to this field are being funded by the university’s Center for Expressive Technologies, including research into using image classification technology to formulate better public health messaging on social media. Another project works with a group of multidisciplinary undergraduate research assistants to develop virtual reality scenarios meant to increase bystander behavior to reduce sexual harassment among college students.

In the university’s first year in PIT-UN, an interdisciplinary team of Cal Poly faculty and staff will establish the groundwork to build a field called “ethical technology” — comprised of inquiry and training that bridges humanistic and technical domains to create innovation that is equitable in both process and outcomes. This team will be led by Matthew Harsh, an associate professor of science, technology and society and the director of the Center for Expressive Technologies. 

“Cal Poly has made tremendous progress in building trans- and interdisciplinary opportunities for students and faculty, including four minors in science, technology and society; the interdisciplinary studies major; a data science minor and a computing for interactive arts minor,” Harsh said. “Building upon these, we can train the next generation of technologists to think with a humanist frame of mind and the next generation of humanists to gain technological skills.”  

By joining PIT-UN, member institutions commit to launching or strengthening initiatives on their campuses that enable interdisciplinary education of students, develop experiential learning opportunities, support students who want to pursue careers in public interest technology, and provide faculty with the support and resources needed to build public interest technology as an area of inquiry. 

PIT-UN has a total membership of 36 colleges and universities, including UC Berkeley, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, among other top-ranked institutions. The network is funded through partners in the philanthropic and public policy sectors, including the Ford Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, and New America, a think and action tank dedicated to public problem solving.  

Contact: Keegan Koberl
805-458-9302; kkoberl@calpoly.edu

June 5, 2020

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