Penn State joins Public Interest Technology University Network

Samantha Chavanic
April 22, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State has joined the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN), a public interest technology partnership managed by New America focused on fostering collaborations between colleges and universities committed to growing the public interest technology field and educating the next generation of civic-minded technology experts.

According to New America, the field of public interest technology “adopts best practices in human-centered design, product development, process re-engineering and data science to solve public problems in an inclusive, iterative manner — continuously learning, improving and aiming to deliver better outcomes to the public.”

As a leader in the emerging field of law, policy and engineering, the University identifies public interest technology as a priority, aligning with its land-grant mission and strategic focus on positively impacting the world.

“I’m very pleased that Penn State will be part of this innovative and exciting group,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “It will enable our faculty to share and learn best practices from our peers; contribute a pipeline of students and research to this nascent field through Penn State’s Law, Policy, and Engineering initiative; give visibility to the activities taking place at Penn State; and foster collaboration among faculty and students across member institutions for broader impact. I expect the results of this collaboration will be transformative.”

The University joins 42 higher education institutions located across the United States in a quest to create and deploy innovative approaches to educate a new generation of technology experts through curriculum development, research thrusts, faculty development and experiential learning opportunities connecting technologists to public interest organizations, government and policymakers.

“We want to enable the interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary education of students so they can critically assess the ethical, political and societal implications of new technologies, navigate their regulatory and policy landscape, and design technologies in service of the public good,” said Sandra Allain, director of Penn State’s Law, Policy, and Engineering (LPE) initiative and Penn State’s university designee to PIT-UN.

With support from New America, the Ford Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation, PIT-UN launched in 2019 as a collaborative network of 21 founding members where engineering intersects with science, the humanities and social sciences, including public policy, business, medicine and law. This effort aims to develop graduates with skills and knowledge at the intersection of technology and policy to improve services to vulnerable communities, deliver better outcomes to the public and solve public problems in an inclusive, iterative manner. PIT-UN membership brings forth new opportunities for Penn State students and faculty across the commonwealth to expand PIT academic initiatives and research in collaboration with peer member institutions. The University aims to advance its contribution to the public interest technology pipeline through its PIT-UN membership and new graduate and undergraduate education and research opportunities that will be made available to students through the LPE initiative and additional efforts across Penn State.  

“LPE will address the ethical, legal, policy and societal impacts of emerging technologies; foster the advancement and understanding of science and technology policy; and the application of technology for the common good,” said Allain.

As part of the University’s PIT-UN membership, LPE will develop and manage the Penn State PIT Alliance, an internal network aimed at identifying faculty and students across the commonwealth working in this nascent field and fostering collaborative public interest technology activities at the University. By joining the Penn State PIT Alliance, Penn State faculty will be informed of opportunities for collaboration and funding, including the annual members-only small grants competition PIT-UN Network Challenge, and benefit by making their work visible across member institutions. PIT-UN membership enables students and faculty to participate in the annual PIT-UN Convening, an event focused on sharing public interest technology research and best practices.

“Becoming an institutional member of PIT-UN gives visibility to public interest technology activities taking place at Penn State throughout the commonwealth and will foster collaboration between faculty at Penn State and across the PIT network, leading to broader impact,” Allain said.

Faculty and students interested in learning more about the Penn State PIT Alliance and joining this community of students, scholars and practitioners in PIT should sign up here.

The Law, Policy, and Engineering (LPE) initiative is an interdisciplinary academic and research initiative among Penn State's College of Engineering, Penn State Law and Penn State's School of International Affairs. The initiative will provide a transformative educational experience for students by actively integrating components of all three disciplines into the curriculum to prepare students for the competitive, interdisciplinary, global workplaces of the future.


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Last Updated April 23, 2021