Emerging Scholars join CITP’s community of tech and society researchers

Three recent university graduates joined Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy this fall as the inaugural class of Emerging Scholars, a program aimed at helping people start careers that combine technology and public policy.

Molly Sharlach

A computer scientist and artist. A data journalist. A former intern in the Canadian Parliament. Three recent university graduates with these diverse backgrounds joined Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) this fall as the inaugural class of Emerging Scholars, a program aimed at helping people start careers that combine technology and public policy.

The Emerging Scholars program provides scholars with an opportunity to pursue their passions as they delve into critical issues of technology and society through research, coursework and mentoring. Scholars are hired as salaried research specialists for two years, and work closely with mentors on independent research, writing and policy engagement. Scholars come to Princeton after earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and may have some work experience. The individually tailored program prepares them for competitive Ph.D. programs or other public interest career paths.

The inaugural scholars, Kenia Hale, Klaudia Jaźwińska and Christelle Tessono, are part of a community of nine fellows currently conducting research and policy engagement at CITP, which is a joint initiative of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. They have diverse educational backgrounds and experiences, and each has a strong desire to grow in particular areas, said Tithi Chattopadhyay, CITP’s associate director and the program director of the Emerging Scholars program.

“This is the first time we have had a post-baccalaureate program that focuses on bringing in people who want to do public interest work and giving them the opportunity for customized training,” said Chattopadhyay, who is serving as a mentor to Jaźwińska along with the program’s faculty director, Arvind Narayanan.

The scholars’ mentors also include Professor of African American Studies Ruha Benjamin and Mihir Kshirsagar, who leads CITP’s tech policy clinic.

“The scholars have hit the ground running, contributing fresh insights and novel perspectives that enrich our community,” said Kshirsagar, who is also a lecturer in computer science and SPIA. “I look forward to seeing how their work shapes the future of tech policy.”

Applications are open for the next cohort of Emerging Scholars, who will begin their tenure in August 2022. Faculty director Narayanan, an associate professor of computer science, emphasized that candidates with many different backgrounds can be successful in the program.

“Tech policy is an unusual field. It’s a mix of different disciplines, and people who are doing tech policy don’t necessarily have a formula for their career path — they’re figuring things out as they go along,” said Narayanan. “For those reasons, someone who wants to do a Ph.D. in this field might feel that they lack the necessary preparation. Maybe their undergrad degree was in computer science and they want to go into social science, or vice versa.”

Candidates may have excelled at their undergraduate studies but had few opportunities for research. Others may be looking to shift disciplines or may have spent a few years working in industry and want to transition to nonprofit or academic work in tech policy.

“We feel that giving people this kind of career flexibility is going to be very helpful to them,” and helpful in building and diversifying the field of people working at the intersection of technology and public interest, said Narayanan, who added that he hopes other institutions will launch similar programs in the years to come.

Meet the inaugural class of Emerging Scholars:

Kenia Hale. Photo by David Dooley/Fotobuddy

Kenia Hale

Before Princeton:

Graduated from Yale University, with a major in computing and the arts and a concentration in architecture. I worked at the Yale Farm and community food justice organizations, taught a game design course to students in the New Haven community, and worked alongside organizers and mutual aid groups in Ohio during the Black Lives Matter uprisings in 2020.

Research interests:

Models for online social relations outside of our current models (i.e., infinite scrolling, bad for mental health, etc.). I believe that social media, while at times harmful, doesn’t have to be. How can we retool data for the creation of liberatory online communities, what are alternative models we can imagine, and how do these communities form and sustain themselves online? I’m also interested in how digital tools can and are being used for climate justice organizing and youth outreach.

Current coursework:

“Anthropologies of Climate and Change” and “Black Aesthetics: Visuality & Visibility in Contemporary Black Poetry”

Both courses are disrupting typical understandings of data collection and “objectivity,” and pushing my imagination around the interconnections between tech and society.

For fun:

I love to both write and read — everything from corny romance novels to social justice-oriented speculative fiction. I’ve found a community of artists in New Brunswick (where I live), and I perform my short stories at weekly open mic nights and popup shows at a local Black-owned bookstore. I roller-skate and skateboard, and plan to get a plot at a community garden when it gets warmer. I’ve also been teaching myself to play electric bass, and a friend and I are planning to start a band.

Klaudia Jaźwińska. Photo by David Dooley/Fotobuddy

Klaudia Jaźwińska

Before Princeton:

Pursued graduate studies as a Marshall Scholar in the United Kingdom: Completed an M.S. in computational and data journalism at Cardiff University, Wales, and an M.S. in data and society from the London School of Economics. Before that, I studied journalism and global studies at Lehigh University.

Research interests:

How evolving technologies are affecting laborers and work. I’m currently supporting two CITP research projects related to this topic — one is an algorithmic impact assessment of food delivery platforms, and the other is an ethnographic study of the security and privacy needs of labor organizers.

The other overarching theme of my academic research and journalistic reporting is accountability. I am interested in the power and influence that technologies and the companies that create them wield in our society, and how policymakers, academia, the press and other countervailing powers can work to keep them in check. I’m working on an independent research project investigating the financial influence of Big Tech companies over research and reporting on tech issues.

Current coursework:

“Machine Learning for Policy Decisions” (half-term), which has deepened my understanding of the complexities of algorithmic decision-making systems and circumstances under which they should and should not be deployed to supplement or replace human decision-making.

For fun:

I love spending time outdoors, including kayaking in the D&R Canal and biking in Mercer Meadows.

Christelle Tessono. Photo by Frank Wojciechowski

Christelle Tessono

Before Princeton:

After earning a B.A. in political science from McGill University, I worked in the House of Commons of Canada, where I assisted members of Parliament in their legislative duties.

Research interests:

I am deeply interested in tackling the relationship between racial inequality and digital technology from a policy perspective. Being able to identify problems and gaps, and brainstorming policy solutions, is my bread and butter. I’m currently working on a few projects related to broadband access, political content moderation and ethical research on social media platforms.

Current coursework:

“Introduction to Quantitative Social Science” and “Bridging the Digital Divide” (half-term)

Both have been super eye-opening. With the research methods course, I’m developing technical skills necessary to conduct my work, whereas the digital divide course was a deep dive into a very timely infrastructural debate here in the United States.

For fun:

I am a big music fan, always trying to stay up to date with the latest albums from my favorite R&B artists. I also enjoy discovering new places, so traveling — whether it’s to a foreign country or to a nearby city — is super important to me!