Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute projects take aim at big social issues

Focused on voter sentiment, opioid crisis, housing inequity

Northwestern Mutual Tower & Commons

Last updated on February 17th, 2020 at 11:01 am

The new Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute unveiled that its first round of research projects will work to understand and address societal issues, including 2020 voter sentiment, equitable housing and the opioid crisis.

The institute launched in the fall as a partnership of Northwestern Mutual, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University, and is backed by a $15 million commitment from the Milwaukee-based life insurance company, along with $12 million from each university. The institute is housed at Cream City Labs, an innovation lab in Northwestern Mutual’s downtown headquarters.

For its first project, the institute said it will use data pulled from online and social media, traditional polling methods and political advertisements to determine which issues are on voters’ minds in the 2020 election. The project, which involves students from both UWM and Marquette, is aimed at shedding light on what is likely to drive voter behavior.

The institute is also partnering with Walnut Way on a community project that uses data science to understand anti-displacement and equitable housing in Milwaukee’s Lindsay Heights neighborhood. Students from both universities will analyze nearly 20 years of data on the social, environmental and economic aspects of the neighborhood to determine how to address barriers to equitable housing and economic development.

The institute will launch a third project in February that will use public data from local sources and geospatial analysis to study opioid overdoses in Milwaukee. The project, which is led by faculty members from both universities, is aimed at finding insights that may be applicable to other communities across the country.

“These projects are perfectly aligned with the mission and vision of the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute,” said Purush Papatla, co-director of the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute and professor of marketing at UWM. “In addition to using data science to solve societal issues, we’re providing opportunities for students to cultivate the skills they will need for a future in data science while introducing them to societal and political issues that have an impact locally and nationally.”

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.