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Half of all Black Americans are excluded from the financial mainstream and Black-owned small businesses are blocked from funding, according to Mastercard. To create equal opportunities for all, the financial services corporation headquartered in New York, made a pledge in June 2020 to stand against racism.

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Last week, Mastercard and Howard University announced a $5 million grant from Mastercard that will support the creation of the Center for Applied Data Science and Analytics (CADSA). The center will advance Howard’s leadership as a major hub of data science for social impact research and training for the next generation of data scientists with expertise in incorporating analysis of racial bias in financial services.

“Data science touches everything, and it’s going to continue to be increasingly impactful in everything that we do,” said Howard University Provost and Chief Academic Officer Anthony K. Wutoh, Ph.D. in the press release. “We’re grateful for the partnership with Mastercard in enabling us to use data science to answer some of the broader societal questions we believe Howard can significantly impact, including those around health care and economic disparities.”

The philanthropic funding, delivered by the Mastercard Impact Fund, is part of Mastercard’s $500 million, five-year In-Solidarity commitment to advance racial equity and economic opportunities for Black Americans, to increase access and usage of appropriate financial services, and to expand access to capital and resources for Black-owned businesses.

CADSA will launch this spring and will prioritize recruitment of tenure-track data science faculty. Through the Data Science Faculty Cluster Hiring Initiative, the university will expand its research and instructional footprint in the areas of Black health and health disparities, social justice, environmental justice, and economic empowerment.

CADSA will include a master’s degree in applied data science and a thought leadership series on racial equity and inclusive growth. Black communities face unique challenges and algorithmic bias in financial services and specifically with credit decisions, and CADSA will conduct research examining how data science can contribute to minimizing racial bias in credit approval processes.

“For the last five years, the Center has prioritized creating the field of data science for social impact. Data is embedded in nearly every facet of our lives and ensuring it is used responsibly and positively impacts society’s most pressing issues is paramount,” says Salah Goss, senior vice president for social impact for the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, the company’s philanthropic hub that is administering the grant. “Howard University is taking a novel approach to addressing data science research by investing in a new generation of professionals who can combine the rigor of science with broader societal impact.”

Howard University professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and principal investigator of the HU Research Centers in Minority Institutions (RCMI) Program, William Southerland, Ph.D., will serve as interim director of the center. Housed on Howard University’s campus.

CADSA will lead collaboration with other HBCUs to share best practices, curricula, and research. It will also partner with industry leaders, like data.org, on efforts to advance talent development and diversity in the field of data science for social impact.

“Data science occurs when data is converted into useful and actionable knowledge,” said Southerland. “This process works best for societal advancement when data is approached without preconceptions and knowledge is interpreted without bias. That is why diversity in the data science profession is so critically important, and it’s also why this Mastercard-Howard collaboration is destined to be very impactful.”

Mastercard is also partnered with Howard’s School of Business 21st Century Advantage Program and participates in teaching, mentoring, recruiting and other engagement activities and events at the university, as well as with other HBCUs. The brand most recently participated in a Virtual HBCU Career Fair hosted by the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity through Historically Black Colleges and Universities.


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