By Hannah Stewart (Comm’19)
Photos by Kimberly Coffin (CritMedia, StratComm’18)

Before Andrew Schwartz knew he’d be an information science major, he had already attended a class. Now, he’s graduating—with a second major in philosophy—as the College of Media, Communication and Information's William W. White Outstanding Graduate.

Faced with a plethora of potential fields, it was a lecture by Morgan Klaus Scheuerman (PhDInfo’23) that initially attracted Schwartz to the field. Andrew Schwartz, Outstanding Graduate of CMCIThe discussion focused on ethics, machine learning and gender—and created a sense of curiosity to explore more topics through the lens of data.

“I chose information science because I am interested not just in computing, but computing as a social and cultural phenomenon,” he said. “Info gives us the skills to look at topics from a lot of different domains with a critical thinking lens and data-driven quantitative perspective, and that’s a skill that’s broadly applicable.” 

The White Outstanding Graduate award honors the CMCI student with the highest overall GPA in his or her graduating class. Schwartz’s academic record is important to him, but more important is the societal impacts of both technology and his work. In the middle of the pandemic, that meant connecting with The COVID Tracking Project, whose data were used by news organizations, two presidential administrations and an array of federal agencies—including the CDC and FDA.

“Working on this project kick-started me thinking that I can actually make things with code that are useful for people,” he said.

As a first-year student, he assisted Robin Burke, professor and chair of information science, in studying fairness in recommender systems. Not only was he able to quickly understand the platform they used for conducting machine learning experiments, but he also helped make improvements to the software that increased its efficiency. Moreover, despite ongoing releases of the software, Schwartz’s code is still supporting it.

“His interest in philosophy was one of the things that attracted him to our research group, which looks at fairness and other ethical dimensions of recommender systems,” Burke said. “For our department as a whole, ethical and critical reflection is a key value, so I think that’s one reason info was a good fit for Andrew.”

Thanks to his work with Burke as well as developing a relationship with Brian Keegan, he was able to take both his experience and his education abroad as an invited researcher at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

“Info gives us the skills to look at topics from a lot of different domains with a critical thinking lens and data-driven quantitative perspective, and that’s a skill that’s broadly applicable.”
Andrew Schwartz

“I studied in Seville for my junior year and completed most of my philosophy coursework while I was in Spain,” Schwartz said. “One of the priorities for me was language acquisition and immersion. So, I lived in Madrid over the following summer and did a research collaboration with Brian’s colleagues—Andrea Peña-Calvin, Javier Arroyo and Samer Hassan—and we got published this spring.”

In Spain, he and the team studied how online communities govern and organize themselves. This experience, and others, emphasized to him the myriad ways data touch various fields, as well as the critical thinking skills needed to leverage technology effectively. 

That’s something he feels he developed through both his majors.

“When it comes to impact and being able to make something I’m proud of, a big part of that is being able to make technology for the people to use it, and make things that people enjoy using and improve their lives,” he said. “Info places a big emphasis on that.”