Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute launches first research projects

By Kevin Conway, associate director of university communication in the Office of Marketing and Communication

The Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute announced its first research projects that will use data science to address challenging societal issues that have a local and national impact. Faculty members and students from Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, as well as community organizations, are collaborating on projects that use data science to better understand three topics: voter sentiment, neighborhood wellbeing and equitable housing, and the opioid crisis.

Faculty and staff from Marquette will play a key role in projects revolving around analysis surrounding social media and how that correlates to public sentiment on political issues. Another project will look at the opioid crisis and attempt to find key factors that can be used to guide both policy and intervention strategies.

A big data lens on the elections
Using a variety of data sources, including online and social media, traditional polling methods, and political advertisements, the big data lens on elections project will determine what issues are on voters’ minds as the 2020 elections approach. The project, which began in January 2020, will shed light on what is likely to drive voter behavior.

Dr. Amber Wichowsky, associate professor of political science, is a co-PI on the project with Dr. Purush Papatla, UWM’s co-director of the NMDSI.


“We can use data science to investigate Americans’ priorities surrounding the election, including how voters and candidates are talking about current issues,” Wichowsky says. “We’ll be able to see if there is a match between what voters are talking about online and what they report in public opinion polls, as well as examine how the electorate is responding to candidates’ political messaging.”

The project will also feature an advisory board from both the political science and data science perspective. Wichowsky will be joined by colleagues Dr. Julia Azari, associate professor of political science, and Dr. Charles Franklin, professor of law and public policy and director of the Marquette Law Poll, for political science. Dr. Michael Zimmer, associate professor of computer science, is also a part of the board representing data science.

Data science to address health crises: opioids
The institute also approved a project that will use public data from local sources and will rely on geospatial analysis to study opioid overdoses in Milwaukee. The project, which launched Feb. 21, hopes to find insights that may be applicable to other communities across the country. Faculty members from both universities will comprise the project team.

This study will analyze datasets in Geographic Information Systems to examine patterns and variables of opioid use dependency across Milwaukee County. The process of examining opioid-related emergencies, distribution patterns, as well as a variety of demographic factors, will help to identify key indicators of vulnerability that determine the risk of opioid use dependency and overdose.

Three members of the Marquette faculty are on the team: Dr. John Mantsch, professor of biomedical sciences; Dr. Praveen Madiraju, associate professor of computer science; and Dr. Aleksandra Snowden, assistant professor of social and cultural sciences.

Project findings and early insights will be communicated in spring 2020.

Walnut Way data dream project
The NMDSI is partnering with Milwaukee nonprofit Walnut Way on a community project that uses data science to understand anti-displacement and equitable housing in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood. Students from Marquette will join students from UWM in analyzing nearly 20 years of data on the social, environmental and economic aspects of the neighborhood to determine how it can be leveraged to access financial resources to address the barriers to equitable housing and economic development.

The Lindsay Heights neighborhood is located between Walnut and Locust Street
and within North 12th to North 20th Street.

About the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute
The Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute is an industry and academic partnership between Northwestern Mutual, Marquette and UWM formed to inspire and cultivate passion for data science in the Milwaukee region. Leveraging the strengths of the three institutions, the groundbreaking partnership will contribute $40 million over five years to help build a technology ecosystem and advance southeastern Wisconsin as a national hub for technology, research, business and talent development, while creating an organic pipeline of tech talent in the area.