Where are you from? Plainsboro, New Jersey (in Central Jersey, near Princeton!)
School/grad year/major: I just finished my first year at Rutgers University, so I will be graduating in May of 2020. I am majoring in Political Science, Business Analytics & Information Technology, and Middle Eastern Studies, with a possible minor in International & Global Studies.
Last thing you searched on Bing: NJ Transit train schedule (boring, I know)
Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program? I have done gender equality advocacy work at the United Nations since my junior year of high school, and I actually met John Paul Farmer at a UN event I was asked to speak at back in September during the opening week of the UN General Assembly. He is the one who told me about the team and the fellowship, and it immediately interested me because most of my experience has been on the political science/international affairs side of things until now — so this seemed like an amazing opportunity to explore a multi-disciplinary field that intersects with both business and politics. Most important to me, it has a very real impact on communities.
What’s your favorite civic project in the New York area? I admire HeatSeek NYC a lot because it does important work that addresses a lot of overlooked groups of people who need it, and has a tangible effect in terms of aiding related legal work. Although not all strictly civic tech, I’m also a fan of the work that Elizabeth Demaray does; I did a winter course on STEAM (intersection of STEM and art) and we met with Elizabeth about her work. It includes the Hand Up Project, which involves 3D printing shells for crabs who are running out of natural homes. We also did a workshop relating to her upcoming Manhattan Tundra project, which has to do with the use of rooftops in NYC — I know there are other groups working on the idea as well, and I think the concept as a whole has an immense amount of potential. Many parts of the STEAM movement as a whole seem to overlap with civic tech.
Who is your civic tech mentor/idol? I work under John and Matt Stempeck, and I honestly would not have known very much about civic tech as a field at all if not for meeting John at that UN event. Now that I have joined the team, both of them have been amazing at helping introduce me to the civic tech space, and are also super inspiring with the work they do both within and outside of the team!
What projects are you working on for your position as tech fellow for Microsoft New York? So far I’ve been updating data on civicgraph.io, specifically researching more international entities. For the new projects we are working on this summer, we have decided to focus on two areas: the environment and women’s empowerment/gender inequality. Both are extremely relevant and critical given current events and are personally really important to me, especially women’s empowerment. I’m very excited to see where we can take them!
What excites you about civic tech? The immense amount of impact it can have, and the dedication of the people involved in the space to serving people and furthering good.
What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities? Definitely greater accountability of public officials, whether it be the police or government. As a whole, I hope it will help empower traditionally marginalized communities, whether through that accountability or access to tools and resources.
FULL SOURCE: Microsoft New York Fellow Profile—Aasha Shaik