by Ashley Lorraine Wiesner
Political science texts litter her laptop, mock trial preparation occupies her mind and cappuccinos course through her system as Emily Fowler buzzes about Chapman Hall. Fowler, a CHC junior studying Political Science and Media Studies, rarely has time to eat lunch between her CHC coursework, involvement with Mock Trial, CHCSA, and the Wayne Morse Scholars Program and her demanding internship with Terrapin Data, a Eugene based technology start-up that works with civic data.
Interning at Terrapin Data is a new addition to Fowler’s life. She found the internship through the honors college weekly newsletter and jumped at the opportunity to work with technology and civic engagement.
Fowler started with the company in October of 2019 and since that time has used data science to collect and develop engaging civic data sets for Oregonians. Her position relies heavily on computer science and coming from a political science background Fowler was a non-traditional pick for the job. Knowing the position would be a challenge, she took to the internet and turned to mentors at Terrapin Data to learn programming and data analytics. Taking on a challenge is a mindset Fowler attributes to her time at CHC. assing that CHC has given her an interdisciplinary and empathetic mindset when approaching problem solving.
“This position lets me combine my interest in politics with my growing toolbox of computer science and programming [skills],” Fowler explained.
This computer science toolbox and interest in civic engagement inspired Fowler to translate 12,000 data entries into engaging data-based tools and applications Oregonians "can use to inspire civic engagement and local change," Fowler said. Her projects translated directly through an Amazon Alexa app, or an interactive map of Oregon that breaks down school board demographics throughout the state and provides information on how to run for school board positions.
“School board democratization and representation is a huge opportunity to enact local change,” Fowler commented. “And to ensure school districts are equitable and just.”
Her passion for this project stems from an interest in civic engagement and interdisciplinary problem solving. Civic engagement has been a part of Fowler’s life since high school but she credits the Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing for her interdisciplinary approach to problem solving. She said the course with Professor Williams taught her foundational skills for lifelong communication methods, but also taught her the value of collaboration when it comes to problem solving—not just collaboration with other people but collaborations of various disciplines.
“The course totally shifted the way I viewed writing and teamwork,” she noted.
An interdisciplinary approach is just one of the problem-solving skills Fowler has gained from CHC. She says learning to engage empathetically with people and information has enhanced her approach to civic engagement. Approaching people and topics with empathy was a skill Fowler learned in the course, "Muslim Women from the 7th to 15th Centuries" with Professor Irum Shiekh. The class allowed her to explore and dismantle media representations of Muslim women through honest class discussions that allowed her to empathize with human experiences different from her own.
“There are some classes that students carry with them for the rest of their lives,” Fowler added. “Always looking back at the lessons learned…this was one of those classes.”
Fowler’s work is not done with the completion of her Terrapin Data project, which went live in mid-April. She hopes to continue her passion for civic engagement and computer science with her CHC thesis and future career. Her thesis will explore the role of artificial intelligence in future elections and she hopes to have a career in civic tech to find data-based solutions for issues like climate change, income inequality and election stability. As for her busy days at Chapman Hall, she plans on maybe eating lunch next year, bringing more meals and using the Chapman kitchen more—a resource she refers to as “a lifesaver.”
To read more of Fowler’s work, check out her article published on the XQ Institute website.
Interactive map link: http://www.whatsmyschoolboard.com/