By Rob Mitchum

Data can make a difference in the world. With the right people, tools, and partnerships, non-profits and governments can use data to save lives, educate more children, reduce poverty and protect the Earth. But to realize this great potential means building a community that fuses a broad range of research disciplines, backgrounds, and talents to attack some of the world’s most pressing issues with data.

For the third year running, the Eric & Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship (DSSG) will lay the foundation for this community, bringing 42 fellows to Chicago for an intense 14 weeks of collaboration and learning. The fellows and their mentors will form teams working with government agencies and non-profits to solve complex problems and construct useful solutions that will help these groups maximize their impact.

“Over the last two years, the fellowship has produced effective examples for social good organizations, showing them what can be done,” said Rayid Ghani, director and founder of DSSG, a University of Chicago program. “We’ve produced fellows who are not only passionate about these causes, but also have the data science skills to make a meaningful social impact. We’re excited about the new class of fellows joining us and helping us expand our efforts in creating a socially conscious and active data science community. ”

The 2015 class will be made up of 23 men and 19 women from the United States, Mexico, Argentina, Austria, Brazil, India, Germany, Iran, South Korea, Australia, Bangladesh, China, Croatia, and Canada. One-third of the fellows come from a computer science background, one-third specialize in social sciences and public policy, and the rest come from programs in statistics, math, and physical sciences.

“To solve social problems that can have a massive impact in the world, you need diversity that reflects that world” Ghani said. “We’re excited about the diverse mix of gender, expertise, and backgrounds that we’ve assembled for this year’s class. These are exactly the kind of people we need to address today’s social challenges.”

In addition to applied statisticians and computer scientists studying machine learning, among this year’s class are astrophysicists studying dark energy and the evolution of the universe, political scientists investigating socioeconomics and politics in Argentina, biologists studying gene networks and the neuroscience of language, software developers building apps tracking government corruption and the spread of misinformation on Twitter, an active-duty military officer, a city planner, and volunteers with the Peace Corps, UNICEF, and Engineers Without Borders.

The fellows are passionate about female and minority representation in science, education at all levels, alleviating global poverty and disease, watchdogging governments, and more, whether through modern data science techniques or more traditional methods in economics, political science, and sociology. Some have even founded their own non-profit organizations that provide support for disadvantaged mothers and teach underrepresented students about computer science and math.

“I struggled with the idea of becoming a computer scientist until I finally discovered research that directly applied to social good,” said Elissa Redmiles, who will start a PhD program in computer science at the University of Maryland in the fall. “Being selected as a Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellow is like a dream come true. I’m so excited to connect with other scientists who are also passionate about social good and to work on tangible projects that will make a big impact!”

“No other program offered the opportunity to do something socially valuable,” said Elizabeth Silver, a graduate student in machine learning at Carnegie Mellon University. “That’s what’s missing from my academic work. It has the potential to help people one day, but it’s very distant from application. I’m excited about solving real, concrete problems and making an immediate impact.”

This year’s DSSG headquarters will be in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. For more information about the fellowship and projects from previous years, visit the DSSG blog or watch videos about the program.