Social Impact

Cornell Summer School on Designing Technology for Social Impact

About our summer school

Information technology is having enormous societal impacts, both positive and negative. Often, these impacts are consequences of decisions made early in the design process. At that stage of production, the voices imagining what technology could be and shaping how it emerges are limited. Ethnically underrepresented communities are often marginalized in these tech discourses. For this reason, researchers, designers, and developers from these communities have a central role to play in articulating social impact and potential for communities that other technology developers might forget or know nothing about, creating alternative, innovative visions for what technology can be in this world.

This summer research workshop is designed to foster a strong cohort of underrepresented researchers working on topics related to the social impact of information technology. Rising seniors and graduate students at any stage from a variety of disciplines are invited to attend, including -- but not restricted to -- informatics, computer science, science and technology studies, communication, product design, urban and rural studies, and visual arts. Our goal is to build a cohort of up-and-coming researchers, provide experience in this research area, and provide research and career building opportunities.

The 2021 workshop, held virtually from June 7-11, will include a diverse cohort of 22 students from across the U.S.


Kaiton Williams is a Social Impact Analyst at Impact America Fund, a venture capital firm specializing in impact on underrepresented communities. He holds a PhD from Cornell in Information Science, where he analyzed how Jamaican mobile phone entrepreneurs appropriate Silicon Valley techniques to build futures for themselves and for the nation.

Phoebe Sengers is an Associate Professor in Information Science and Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University. The focus of her work is the long-term social impacts of technology design, using methods from ethnography, history, and design to explore what we imagine technologies will do for us, how they are actually taken up in human practice, and how they could be otherwise.

Sylvia Simioni is a PhD student at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. She studies the use of technology by migrants in Central America and develops sociotechnical means to support their well-being. Sylvia is an alumna of the 2018 Summer School on Designing Technology for Social Impact.

Nicki Dell is an Assistant Professor in Information Science based at the Cornell Tech campus in New York City. She focuses on designing, building, and evaluating computing systems that improve the lives of underserved populations in the US and around the world. To do this, she partners with numerous NGOs and government ministries to design and deploy novel sociotechnical systems that have a positive impact.

Karen Levy is an Assistant Professor in Information Science and affiliated with the Law School at Cornell. She researches the legal, organizational, social, and ethical aspects of data-intensive technologies. She is interested in what happens when we use digital technologies to enforce rules and make decisions about people, particularly in contexts marked by conditions of inequality.

Invited Speakers

Michaelanne Thomas is an Assistant Professor/Presidential Postdoctoral Scholar in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. Her work draws on the fields of Anthropology, CSCW, and ICTD to study how people collaboratively design, access, and participate with internet technologies in constrained contexts. She works with marginalized communities to explore the grassroots, sociotechnical processes and systems that emerge when navigating political, social, and economic duress. Her work has been featured on CNN, The Atlantic, New Scientist, and Vice, among others.

Judith Uchidiuno is a Learning Science and HCI researcher with a PhD from Carnegie Mellon’s HCI Institute. She is extremely passionate about low-income communities and explores how cost-effective technologies can improve the quality of education they receive. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher with CMU’s Robotics Academy working on a project that teaches children to understand, design, and program their own games and robots. As a passion project, she reviews children’s storybooks that celebrate African history and culture.

Jasmine Jones is an assistant professor in Computer and Information Science at Berea College. She received her PhD in Information Science from the University of Michigan. Her research and teaching focus on understanding the human experience of physical computing technologies and promoting the inclusion of diverse imaginaries in the design process.

Woodrow W. Winchester III is the Director, Professional Engineering Programs for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). He is also the Director, Professional Development & Continuing Education for the American Society for Engineering Management (ASEM) where he coordinated and facilitated, in partnership with UMBC, a Webinar series that explored Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE/I) in technical management and technological development. Selected as a member of the second cohort of the IAspire Leadership Academy, Woodrow is an advocate for more equitable, inclusive, and consequential approaches to technology design and deployment. As a thought leader, Woodrow has published works in influential practitioner-oriented publications such as INCOSE Insight Magazine, ACM Interactions, Fast Company Magazine and The Conversation. He has also been a featured speaker at such venues as PRIMER 2020, Health Experience Design (HxD) Conference, and the University of Maryland - A. James Clark School of Engineering’s Engineering Education Speaker Series.


Eligibility for this workshop is evaluated using the following three factors:

  1. Our goal is to build a cohort of students from underrepresented groups, including but not limited to African-American, Hispanic/Latinx, Native American/First Nationas, Native Alaskan, or foreign nationals of similar background. People outside these groups may also apply and be considered.
  2. Rising seniors through all stages of graduate programs are eligible.
  3. Applicants must reside in the US (including Alaska, Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) or Canada.

Contact Social Impact

Email us at cis-diversityprograms [at] cornell [dot] edu.