Data for Good

NMDSI Co-Directors select four winners of the Data Dream competition at 2021 Data Day

Jensen Muza, Program Management Intern

Nov 5, 2021

For the third consecutive year, the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute (NMDSI) partnered with Data You Can Use (DYCU) for their Data Day 2021 conference, which was held virtually on Wednesday, October 20th.

Data Day is a city-wide gathering of neighborhood leaders, data scientists, government leaders, researchers, funders, and community development advocates to share innovative and effective practices in using data to understand, build alignment, and take action on issues facing our communities. Data You Can Use is a Milwaukee-based nonprofit research organization that connects people who need data to people that have data to solve real life problems.

This year’s event was highlighted by impactful messages from keynote speakers, information sessions, and the announcement of the winners for the Data Dream competition. Data Dream is a competition hosted by Data You Can Use that gives nonprofits the opportunity to win funding and assistance with data projects. Sixteen applicants pitched their projects through several sessions, judged by NMDSI Co-Directors, Keri McConnell, Purush Papatla, and Scott Rex.

Out of the six finalists, four were named winners. "These are the kinds of organizations where applying the right data to problems and opportunities can add lots of value,” said Rex.

One of the nonprofits that won their Data Dream, Riverworks Development Corporation, is sponsored by the Northwestern Mutual Foundation. The NM Foundation’s mission is to improve the lives of children and families in need through financial support, volunteerism, and collaboration with community partners to build stronger communities.

Riverworks’ Data Dream is to better understand the impact of small business development in the Harambee neighborhood. They drive social and economic development by aligning residents and businesses with specialized resources that strengthen Harambee, Riverwest, and surrounding communities. Riverworks envisions a vibrant and diverse community of residents, businesses, and stakeholders who jointly create and maintain a prosperous neighborhood and quality of life.

The NMDSI will also make contributions through student involvement with Riverworks this year. Students from Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will have the opportunity to work with Riverworks to help make an impact in Milwaukee neighborhoods using data.

Last year, UW-Milwaukee graduate student Aaron Cochan was connected by the NMDSI to 2020 Data Dream winner, Lead2Change, to assist with their career-readiness project. He started work with Lead2Change because he “wanted to do something with real world data,” Cochran explained. Lead2Change and the NMSDI gave him the opportunity to work hands-on, using data to solve local problems. This connection between students and local Milwaukee organizations is the relationship the NMDSI aims to create each year.

Another highlight from this year’s event was McConnell’s interview with Antonio Butts of Walnut Way, a past awardee of the NM Foundation funding where ten students from Marquette University and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee participated. The two discussed the event keynote, “Data as a Language, Lens, and Lever for Social Change”, and the direction the organization has taken since NM Foundation and NMDSI’s involvement, which showed the lasting impact that the Data Dream competition has had in the community. The NMDSI and NM Foundation are excited to work with Riverworks throughout the next year and see the impact the organization will make on the Milwaukee community.

This partnership will help fulfill both organizations' missions to make Milwaukee a better place for everyone. To learn more about Riverworks and how to get involved, visit

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