“It was really an honor,” says Rice Computer Science undergraduate student Vinay Tummarakota when asked about being selected as a Civic Digital Fellow for Coding it Forward. He joined a group of almost 40 young technologists this past semester who were paired with federal agencies to serve the community working on technology challenges.
As a part of this prestigious civic tech fellowship, Tummarakota was selected by the National Institutes for Health (NIH) to work on public health projects. He expressed surprise at being selected for the program as a sophomore and says it was something he could not pass up. “I was really grateful for the opportunity to do the fellowship.”
Each student who applies for the program is vetted through an interview process that matches them with the right agency like the General Services Administration (GSA), the Census Bureau or in Tummarakota’s case, the NIH. His internship at the National Institute on Aging focused on identifying publicly accessible databases relevant to aging research. In his role, he implemented a natural language processing model in Python to identify such databases.
Tummarakota was selected from a competitive applicant pool of 340 students with an acceptance rate of 10%. Because of the pandemic, he participated in the fellowship remotely from his home state of Illinois. The fellowship involved engaging in the civic tech community through virtual site visits, one-on-one mentorship, and Q&A panels with organizations like the US Digital Service and 18F.
The Civic Digital Fellowship is more than a paid internship though. Tummarakota explains that the fellowship, “is an opportunity to apply my passion for computer science and government policy in a manner that will benefit everyday Americans...I wanted to learn about the experiences of individuals in the cohort as well as companies navigating the civic technology space.”
Tummarakota appreciated that he was placed in a position where he could make a real difference. “I'm glad I was able to work at the NIH,” he said. “I still think this time has really brought up the necessity of having good public health infrastructure and research in place. So I'm really glad to have had an opportunity to contribute to that.”
Read more about Coding it Forward and the Civic Digital Fellowship. Applications for Summer 2021 are due January 24, 2021. You can also explore some of the work former fellows have done on GitHub.