Forging mission-driven and data-enabled careers
The Center for Urban Science and Progress attracts students who aim to make a difference
NYU Tandon’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) is an interdisciplinary research center dedicated to developing novel data- and technology-driven solutions for complex urban problems. Its graduate programs attract a wide variety of mid-career professionals seeking to expand their horizons and further their personal missions. Read more about some of them below and learn what drew them to CUSP.
The social-justice-oriented analyst
Branden DuPont arrived at CUSP this semester with a real-world understanding of how data can help solve societal problems.
As an analyst at the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Institute for Health and Equity, he helped a Milwaukee-based coalition of agencies track data on evictions in order to monitor trends and make the case for Right to Counsel, and he also developed a prosecutorial dashboard that allows the public to easily access information on how their justice system is working. The dashboard — the first of its kind in the state and one of the few in the nation — includes such important factors as case dismissals (a vital metric since a decision to reject a case before filing means fewer people unnecessarily enter the justice system only to have their case dismissed early), charges issued, sentencing outcomes, and demographic indicators like race and gender. Its aim, DuPont explains, is to increase transparency and accountability in the justice system and encourage data-driven reform.
He also recently took part in collaborative research conducted by the Loyola University Chicago, the Justice Innovation Lab, and the Ninth Circuit Solicitor’s Office in Charleston County, South Carolina. It resulted in an eye-opening report, “Disparity and Prosecution in Charleston, SC,” which contains an analysis of 24,000 criminal charges against Black and white men over a five year period, to determine if racial disparities resulted from decisions made during the prosecutorial process.
The report made news all over the state thanks to some dismaying findings: Black men were about five times more likely to be accused of a crime than white men on a per capita basis. In 2019, for example, although Black individuals made up only 12% of Charleston’s population, they made up 53% of the people who were arrested and entered the criminal justice system. The difference in arrest rates was particularly pronounced in enforcement of drug laws, where Black men were six times more likely to be charged than white men. Such disproportionality in arrests, the report concluded, cannot be explained by differences in behavior alone and may reflect the impacts of law enforcement practices and resource allocation.
DuPont — whose other past work includes an analysis showing that reducing the use of cash bail in Chicago saved defendants and their families millions of dollars without making communities less safe — earned his undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. During an internship at a public defender’s office, he came to the realization that data could be the key to unveiling systemic problems — and devising strategies for solving them.
He is a big fan, he says, of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’s assertion that “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” and he hopes his time at CUSP will hone his data analysis and visualization skills so that he can shed even more light on the problems plaguing Milwaukee, Chicago, and other urban areas across the country.
Vaidehi Raipat trained as an architect in her native India, earning a B-Arch degree from the BMS College of Engineering, in Bangalore, in 2012, and an M-Arch from the Sir JJ College of Architecture, in Mumbai, in 2017.
The founder of her own firm, Urbanist, she is also a principal at Innovature Research and Design Studio (IRDS), an interdisciplinary, creative practice whose aim is to weave diverse realms, such as architecture, the urban fabric, and user aspirations into a distinctive pattern of thoughtful design in order to create sustainable and meaningful private and public spaces.
She has been inspired, she says, by considering how users perceive space differently. “I try to put myself in their shoes,” she says. “Architectural plans can be like artistic canvases, and architects are prone to fantasizing without taking practical, cultural factors into account. Still, our goal must be to create spaces that elicit feelings of safety and positivity in their users.”
That lesson became clear to her as she studied the dark, under-utilized and sometimes crime-ridden urban voids of Bangalore and Mumbai and conceived of ways that city planners could improve the situation. Until now, explains Raipat — who once served as an urban design consultant at Infrastructure Development Corporation of Karnataka and a project consultant for the Smart Cities India Foundation — there has been a great deal of qualitative research on those issues, but a dearth of data-driven quantitative studies. With data transforming so many other fields, she thought, why not hers? That led her to the Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) this past fall, and even as a full-time student, she continues to run her architectural firm — as well as conduct independent research. She intends to one day earn a doctoral degree with a specialization in housing policies that aid spatial equity and pave the way for inclusive urban governance.
Raipat thinks it’s important for everyone, even laypeople, to consider how they are affected by the built environment around them. She highly recommends Bill Bryson’s 2010 book, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, which explores our homes (the built environment we engage with every day) to provide a glimpse into the sometimes surprising history of the objects we take for granted and how they influence us.
She was recently selected as an Emerging Scholar for the 12th International Conference on The Constructed Environment, an initiative of the Constructed Environment Research Network, whose members share an interest in human configurations of the environment and the interactions among the constructed, social, and natural environments. Her award-winning paper, “Human behaviour induced by spatial order,” which she will present at the conference next April in Mexico, posits that a space truly comes into its own because of the way people use it, behave around it, interact with it, and interact with each other in it. “The paper explores human space, that is, the space in which an individual exists, interacts and performs,” she says. “Organization of the built environment within the human space is known as spatial order, and that’s key to how an individual communicates both verbally and through body language with others in the same order — in other words it lays the foundation of human behavior.”