Three students from the first cohort of the PIT (Public Interest Technology) @CSI learning community, located at CSI St. George, were named runners up in New America’s student competition, titled “Imagining a PIT Future: A PIT-UN Student Creative Arts Contest.” Yamilet Vasquez and Andrea Guifarro, as well as Jenna Onions submitted videos describing their app prototypes to the contest. Vasquez and Guifarro created an app to connect the Latinx community to critical services and Onions’s app is aimed at LGBTQIA+ youth on Staten Island.

According to Rev. Dr. Katie Cumiskey, Professor and Academic Coordinator of CSI St. George, who serves as Director of the PIT@CSI learning community, the program is in its third year. “PIT is focused on the intersection of technology and society,” she explained, “and aims to apply the power of tech skills and new tech tools to community-driven problem solving and policy making. These goals are centered on the values of equity, access, and inclusion in building a tech-talent pipeline and the development of data and design skills.”

For the last three years, and through the pandemic, the PIT@CSI learning community has brought 50 students into CSI, primarily from four feeder high schools on Staten Island: Curtis, McKee, Port Richmond, and New Dorp. The program is currently working on chartering its first student club called “CSI Tech 4 Change,” which will be the only CUNY chapter of a national student PIT organization. This learning community has been supported through funding by New America as a part of CUNY’s participation in the PIT-University Network, a national network of 54 college and universities all aimed at growing the field. Professor Cumiskey and Dr. Effie MacLachlan, Director of Grants and Research Programs at the CUNY Office of Research, both serve as CUNY designees in this network.

Commenting on the competition, Onions said, “Being a part of PIT@CSI has allowed me to help communities by using technology in ways I never thought was possible. When first talking about the types of projects we were going to work on, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to focus on, but after thinking about all of the work my peers were doing within their own communities, Professor Cumiskey and I came up with this idea. Queer happiness does exist and is a very real possibility. This idea was a way for me to relate through my personal experience as a Queer woman on Staten Island, while also doing what public interest technology does best — incorporating technology into building solutions for empowering communities.”

Vasquez noted, “Being a finalist in the “PIT in Action” contest sponsored by a national think tank, New America, held immense importance to me because it allowed me to demonstrate the skills that I have learned and how technology can be leveraged to create a positive impact in our communities. Through the PIT@CSI program, I was able to learn UX design and create a prototype of an app that could be created to support building important resources for my community.”

Guifarro stated, “The Public Interest Technology Learning Community at the College of Staten Island St. George has provided me with numerous opportunities to broaden my knowledge and develop skills in my areas of interest. Participating in this contest allowed me to highlight a project that advocates for my community as well as [demonstrate] the impact PIT has, once implemented. Being a part of this victory means a lot to me because it demonstrates the purpose and drive that motivates me to shape technology in the public interest.”

Reacting to her students’ recognition, Cumiskey said, “I am so proud of the work of the students in the PIT@CSI learning community. Andrea, Yami, and Jenna have emerged as great leaders in our community and have had a significant impact on driving the vision for the learning community as a whole. I was impressed by our students’ ability to articulate their projects that they created as part of a UX training program they participated in the Winter of 2021. I know that they will use these skills to affect real change in the communities that they advocate for. Through their participation in this contest, they have been recognized by a national think-tank, New America, and have brought attention to the important work that we are doing at CSI St. George and at CUNY.”

Recruitment for a fourth PIT@CSI cohort is currently open to any CSI student who would like to get more involved in the program. Interested students can email for more information.

By Terry Mares