In an economics class last year, Anh “Jessica” Bui ’20 was amazed to learn all the ways statistics could bring about positive change in communities.
“Just based on numbers, you can tell a lot about a community, and that can be used to help community leaders make decisions,” Bui said.
She is now hoping to use the power of statistics for good in Lynchburg as part of a Summer Research project with Elizabeth Perry-Sizemore, the Catherine Ehrman Thoresen ’23 & William E. Thoresen Chair of Economics, and San Hoang ’20. The group will lay the groundwork for an online database that would include information on Lynchburg neighborhoods.
The project is modeled after the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance’s online database. The initiative started about 20 years ago at the University of Baltimore, where researchers met with community leaders to identify various “vital signs” to help assess quality of life in area neighborhoods. Some of the variables included neighborhood safety, average incomes, and age and health status of residents.
“The data is really important because economists and others can use it to do research,” Hoang said. “It gives information on the well-being of each neighborhood and helps local governments and nonprofits decide where they should spend money and what they should spend it on.”
Much of the group’s work this summer has included researching the Census and other data online, and deciding what “vital signs” should be included in an online database for Lynchburg. They also want to get feedback from members of the community.
“What we want to do is have our own ideas and bring them into a conversation to help people understand the value of a project like this and also be open to what others in the community have to say about what needs to belong in a dataset like this,” Perry-Sizemore said.
In addition to Perry-Sizemore and her students’ expertise in the field, Leo Cohen, a student at E.C. Glass High School, and Dung Nguyen ’18 have contributed their coding and computer programming skills to the project and helped compile Census data.
“I wanted to use my summer to learn new things,” Cohen said. “Recently, I learned how to use a statistical coding language, and I think I might even use it in school next year because I’m taking AP statistics. So, a lot of things I’m learning, plus the experience in a more professional setting, has been really valuable.”
Perry-Sizemore is happy to work with a group that has such diverse skillsets.
“The skills everyone brings to this project are different enough that we can expand in really interesting ways and learn a lot from each other but are also very complementary and similar enough that we work well together,” she said.