Volunteer Spotlight: Charlotte Ellison

How did you first become involved with DataKind? What was appealing to you about it? 

I went to a DataJam in the fall of 2020. During the pandemic, I was looking for ways to get more involved with my community and that offered a way for me to just move forward. 

I was particularly excited by the EcoAction Arlington project, and I applied to volunteer for DataKind to work on it. I worked on their Tree Canopy Equity Program, keeping data on tree plantings and ensuring that they were fairly distributed in neighborhoods with regards to race and income, among other things. It was just so interesting to learn about what was important to people outside of the data science community with regards to data.

I had previously done a hack-a-thon, and I’d enjoyed it butI liked the idea of doing something more long-term. With DataKind, I really enjoy the intellectual pursuit of problem solving with data science, helping the community, and connecting with people who share that same interest. 

What do you enjoy most about volunteering with DataKind?

It’s just a really encouraging environment. They have the idea of being ‘tough on ideas, gentle on people’ that really resonated with me.

What non-technical skills have you found essential in this role?

Being able to learn about an entirely new topic really quickly, taking a deep dive into an ‘unknown territory’ of research. Being curious and open, having that confidence that you can learn about something new. Also, having the humility of not being an expert on everything.

How has your work with DataKind influenced or supported your career so far?

It has, in a number of ways. It encouraged me to learn new things in the field, like keeping up with a new programming language that I don’t use in my typical workday, and learning how to use GitHub. But more broadly, it was just being exposed to new problems and seeing other people’s approaches to solving them. When similar  questions come up at work, it’s been great to remember, ‘oh I did something kinda similar already’.

Other than data science, what are you passionate about?

I like doing jigsaw puzzles, it’s relaxing but also challenging, and you’re working to complete it, there’s just something that’s so satisfying about that. Right now, I’m working on a wooden puzzle with interlocking pieces that’s nature-themed, with some of the pieces in fun shapes. I also enjoy hiking, and just exploring nature around the DC area. I love the area around here, just like 20 minutes outside of the city, you’re in a completely different environment. 

What advice would you give to anyone interested in volunteering with DataKind?

Don’t be scared to try something new! It’s a great environment to ask questions and explore new things, you never know what you’ll learn along the way, how it will benefit you down the road, or what connections you’ll make along the way.

About Volunteer Spotlights

Our volunteers are the lifeblood of our mission. They’ve inspired people to use their skills in ways they never dreamed of. They’ve slayed misconceptions. They’ve shown organizations trying to make the world a more humane place how data science and AI can change the game. We’re honored (and thrilled) to feature their stories in DataKind’s Volunteer Spotlight series. Follow this series to learn about their impeccable skill sets, their work with our brilliant project partners, and what inspires them to give their time, resources, and energy to causes that matter. 

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