Through its Data + Decisions Destination Area, Virginia Tech inventively interweaves data science into its curriculum. Meet a faculty member using data in novel and world-changing ways.

One of the first things C.L. Bohannon, assistant professor of landscape architecture, director of the Community Engagement Lab, and faculty principal in the Leadership and Social Change Residential College, teaches students is that data represent people.

Students in his community-driven landscape architecture courses start by meeting and surveying residents in Virginia and West Virginia cities. They ask citizens what barriers they face to making their communities healthier, safer, and more livable. From those conversations, students build data-driven maps that identify urban “food deserts” and work to develop solutions including food gardens, neighborhood markets, parks, community supported agriculture programs, and public-private partnerships.

Bohannon carries that service-learning ethic into his role as faculty principal in the Leadership and Social Change Residential College at Virginia Tech, where he leads 300 students in a residential community focused on being citizen-scholars. The student residents volunteer their time in community engagement projects focused on food equality, social justice, and environmental justice.

“When we obtain data through direct engagement with the people most affected by these issues, we empower them to take a more substantive role in design and policy decisions that impact the places where they live,” Bohannon said. “This helps our students see the humanistic side of data – not only how to collect and analyze it, but also how to use it to be agents for social change.”

— Written by Marya Barlow

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