Avigail Vantu

  • Director of Data Analytics, NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission

Avigail Vantu

“I feel that working in the public sector aligns with my belief that data analysis should be coupled with an understanding of the people and communities it affects, ensuring its significance in creating impactful outcomes.“

We spoke with Avigail about how earning her MS in Applied Urban Science and Informatics helped to shape her future career aspirations. Read our interview for more insights about what it's like to be a student at CUSP! 


As someone with a background in economics and political science, what initially sparked your interest in pursuing a degree like CUSP?

My experiences growing up in Israel revealed a lack of common language and conversation between Israelis and Palestinians, leaving me frustrated. As an undergraduate, I studied economics and political science, but an elective in urban economics sparked my interest in cities and their potential. Wanting to incorporate technology and focus on inclusive urban spaces, I started taking more urban design courses. I yearned to combine technology, economics, and data to plan better cities.

After learning more about the emerging field of urban data science, I spoke with a few professionals and started to hear about the buzz surrounding CUSP. Recognizing the opportunity to deepen my knowledge in data and open data, CUSP became the perfect fit. Ultimately, my passion for creating inclusive and sustainable cities fueled my interest in pursuing a degree at CUSP.

What were your initial impressions and feelings when you joined CUSP?

When I joined CUSP, I was part of one of the earliest cohorts, so I felt a mix of excitement and uncertainty. We felt like pioneers, and our experiences and perspectives were valued in shaping the direction of the program. It was exciting to have the chance to contribute to the program’s development.

Can you describe some of the challenges and highlights of being one of the first cohorts in the CUSP program?

One of the highlights of being part of the early cohorts was the excitement and the sense of being in the heart of New York City. The location itself was thrilling, and the views from our building were amazing. It felt like a quintessential New York City experience for someone coming from outside the city. The diversity within our cohort was exciting, but it could also be overwhelming, especially when we were sitting in the same class and realizing the differences in skill sets. People came from various fields and already had their own areas of expertise. For example, I had limited coding experience compared to some software engineers in the program. Navigating these differences could be stressful and challenging at times, but it provided a great opportunity to learn from one another and grow.

What classes stood out to you during your time at CUSP? 

One class that I really enjoyed was the capstone course. Our professor not only instructed us well, but also served as a mentor and provided valuable career advice. I still turn to them for guidance today. During my capstone, I was working with the Department of City Planning’s Capital Planning Division. Collaborating with actual city planners exposed me to the bureaucratic aspects of urban planning and highlighted the contributions our program can make in the field. Working in the public sector alongside friends made the experience enjoyable, and the project allowed us to plan creatively and establish a feedback loop with the planners. 

You also interned while you were a student at CUSP. Could you tell us more about that experience and the work you did?

During my time at CUSP, I ended up interning for the Department of City Planning’s Brooklyn Borough Office, focusing on a zoning project. We were specifically addressing a stretch of land with multiple auto repair shops, but the existing zoning regulations were geared towards manufacturing. Our goal was to explore the possibility of changing the zoning to allow for mixed-use commercial and residential development based on residents’ requests. As an intern, I utilized data and GIS tools to create maps and gather relevant data sources to support the proposed zoning changes. 

Throughout the internship, I gained exposure to day-to-day work at local government  which shed light on the differences between the private and public sector. My main takeaways from this experience were the valuable insights into the intricacies of decision-making and the unpredictable nature of working in the public sector.

Can you provide insights into your professional path? How has your CUSP education influenced your career choices and the work you're currently involved in?

After my time at CUSP, I was lucky to land a job as a research scientist at a research lab at NYU College of Global Public Health. In 2019, I  joined a small company called Blue Conduit where I had the opportunity to work closely with talented data scientists. Blue Conduit impressed me with their ability to explain complex data concepts in a way that anyone could understand, and I was eager to contribute to their work.

Working at Blue Conduit allowed me to be more hands-on and involved in writing code and automating tasks. It was a refreshing change from a project management role I had taken on previously. I believe that maintaining technical skills is crucial in our field, even when transitioning into leadership roles.

Overall, my work experiences at academia and at the not-for-profit sector have helped me grow both technically and as a leader. I valued the opportunity to work with smart and talented individuals and to contribute to projects that have a positive impact.

Tell us more about your current role at the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) and how it aligns with your career goals and passion for making a positive impact on communities?

I recently started working with the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) as the Director of Data Analytics within its Policy Division, and so far, it has been an exciting opportunity for me. After spending some time reflecting on my career path, I realized that while the private sector offers growth, innovative tools and methods and technical opportunities, for my next chapter, I wanted to be in a position where I could have a tangible impact . As a New York resident I love knowing that my work is contributing to improving the city mobility system and people’s lives. Speaking with friends and past classmates who had worked in government roles reinforced this desire for immediate impact.

Joining the TLC allows me to combine my passion for data with the goal of making a difference in cities and the lives of individuals. As a new public servant, I feel an immense amount of responsibility, but I am also very enthusiastic about the potential to  support policy making in the taxi and for-hire vehicle industry through a data-driven lens. Having had a varied set of professional experiences, I think I bring a fresh perspective that is helping me make an impact in areas like:  team-building, reducing manual and repetitive processes through embracing automation tools, creating a work environment that is collaborative and producing reproducible code. I feel that working in the public sector aligns with my belief that data analysis should be coupled with an understanding of the people and communities it affects, ensuring its significance in creating meaningful outcomes.