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The Citizen

Students tackle immigration issues with Internet and data

DSC_0524By Denise Linn, MPP’15
Armed with laptops, coffee and a shared sense of purpose, a diverse collection of students and community members gathered in Starr Auditorium on Saturday, Nov. 2 for the Harvard Kennedy School’s first Datafest.
The event was hosted by the Tech4Change PIC and was one of many simultaneous hack-a-thons happening around the world – each one seeking to tackle migration issues through new web applications, mobile apps, and other digital tools.
“Having participated in several Datafests, I thought the event would be a great fit for HKS,” said Tech4Change Co-Chair, Alison Flint. “The Kennedy School – at its best – brings people with different backgrounds together to learn from each other and address difficult policy questions. The Datafest fits perfectly into this mission – building relationships between participants and developing solutions to problems that can’t be solved with a single skill set.”
The Datafest began with student introductions, idea pitches and team formation. From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; teams brainstormed, coded and prepared their projects for final judgment at the end of the day. Two projects from the Datafest – ConnectENG and ImmiGuide – advanced to the global Datafest competition.
ConnectENG is a Web site built to link immigrants seeking to improve their English to local volunteers with common interests. Echoing a model, Immiguide is a secure, self-service online platform providing immigrants with a customized toolkit of information and resources based on the personal circumstances they input into the Web site.
One of the highlights of the day was a talk from special guest Ernie Dominguez. Dominguez, a Baltimore resident and recent graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law, spoke openly about his experience as an undocumented immigrant during his teen and college years.
Dominguez’s words inspired Nick Kang, an MPP1 and a team leader for the ImmiGuide project:
“The experience he shared about the anxiety and uncertainty he felt as an undocumented migrant had me thinking about how powerful information is,” explained Kang. “That’s where the idea came in: What if we could develop a tool that would provide a migrant a diagnosis of their status and associated risks of that status, as well as a customized list of resources and action items to ease their anxieties?”
The Datafest was co-sponsored by the Carr, Shorenstein and Ash Centers. For more information, visit