Applied Data Scientist, Civis Analytics
BS in statistics and finance with a minor in mathematics, University of Pennsylvania
As a corps member for Teach For America in Columbia Heights, DC, Natnaell Mammo became interested in the structural issues that were affecting his students, largely African-American and English-language learners (ELL) from Central America. He lamented that there was seemingly never enough ELL resources or staff members, that the data used to assess student progress within the school (though more advanced than most) felt incomplete, and that his students were not always approached as individuals in the media or political sphere, but as “immigration issues to discuss in the halls of Congress.” Mammo found himself wanting to know more about how policy could improve the lives of kids, as well as understand more advanced metrics that could be helpful in analyzing school data.
As a result, Mammo began an extensive search of master’s in policy programs (MPP), researching schools up and down the East Coast, in his home city of Houston, and in Chicago. He became immediately intrigued by the quantitative focus of the MPP program at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, something that felt like a differentiator from the other programs he had researched. But, ultimately, it wasn’t the MPP program that sold him on Harris. Instead, it was a brand new program that would marry his statistics, finance, and mathematics background; his public policy interests; and a coding passion that began in his undergraduate years: the master’s of science in computational analysis and public policy (MSCAPP).
“The MSCAPP program was just launching and offered a whole new dimension of computer programming, which felt like the natural extension of a quantitative program. And it built upon my pre-existing interest in coding,” says Mammo. “It was an amazing opportunity to have everything I wanted: the quantitative piece, public policy, and a whole new mastery of computer programming.”
The MSCAPP program is designed to develop fearless leaders and thinkers at the intersection of policy analysis and computation. Since its inception two years ago, it has already done so, graduating students who work in significant roles in the private sector, within research labs, and throughout governments at all levels. For Mammo, who entered as a member of the first graduating class, the Harris MSCAPP program trained him how to collect, analyze, and share large government datasets and shaped a new professional trajectory.
It’s not an unusual story for Harris graduate students to enter with one aim and leave with another. Once Mammo became immersed in the Harris program and exposed to multiple opportunities—a research project with Senior Fellow in Urban Sciences Brett Goldstein on the relationship between weather and crime, a New York City Mayor’s Office internship with the Crime Lab studying how often a victim is also an offender, among others—he realized the breadth of possibilities available to him. Mammo was driven to study public policy because of his interest in education, but his education at Harris drove him clarify his career goals.
Mammo still enjoys and follows educational policy. In fact, his Harris schedule allowed him to audit a class with Professor Charles Payne and tutor Chicago students at ACE Charter High School, all of which made a lasting impact on him. However, it was a MSCAPP-organized employment exploration field trip [KS1] that altered Mammo’s path.
Among other organizations and employers, Mammo was exposed to Civis Analytics, a data science company that provides analytics tools and services to help other organizations make data-driven decisions. Civis held an immediate appeal for Mammo because, he says, “it was a place where [he] could challenge [his] technology and statistic skills, as well as apply those skills to progressive and social issues” that mattered to him. Mammo quickly realized he wanted to work towards and prepare for a position at Civis and he was supported in reaching that goal. Mammo explains, “Goldstein really supported me in my desire to get a position at Civis by steering me towards the classes, research, and skill development I would need. My research work with him was particularly well-suited to preparing me.”
Today, Mammo is an applied data scientist at Civis Analytics, a position that he describes as a “bridge role between a computer programming researcher and a consultant who is client facing.” He calls the position a “ perfect fusion” that “mirrors the MSCAPP program in many ways.”
Located in the Washington, DC office, Mammo works with multiple clients on political campaigns and non-profit awareness goals. Objectives can range from providing granular data information to expand support for a state referendum, build public awareness about an environmental non-profit, or increase enrollment in a flood insurance program.
The flood insurance project is Mammo’s current focus and having witnessed in Houston the devastation that can occur due to flooding, the professional has become personal. He reflects that before this project, “he had no idea that ninety percent of natural disasters are flood related. I saw it in Houston, but I didn’t realize the scale. It has an impact on a lot of lives.”
When Mammo reflects on his time at Harris now, he expresses disbelief in the amount he learned. “I was blown away by how much I grew, even just a couple of months into the program. The research opportunities, my classmates, internships—Harris is definitely an incredible experience to have. Not to mention the connections,” he says with a laugh. “In fact, my manager at Civis Analytics is a Harris alum.”