While a University of Chicago student, Vivek Ramakrishnan studied disadvantaged communities in Chicago and at-risk youth across the country—transformative experiences that made him wonder: Who should receive government services and how do we effectively deal with scarcity?
“Reading the stories of children who have spent their lives in foster care and have had to navigate unbelievably difficult circumstances made me internalize how important it was to provide support to those involved in the system,” said the third-year student in the College.
Ramakrishnan believes data can be used to make an impact on government systems. Recently awarded a prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship, which provides up to $30,000 for students pursuing careers in public service, Ramakrishnan intends to explore how applied and predictive methods can be used to analyze the child welfare system.
“I think there is a future where data can be used to genuinely connect people with services who need it the most, and who are currently disconnected from support,” said Ramakrishnan, a public policy major. “I really want to be part of this defining moment to make sure the field moves in the right direction.”
Ramakrishnan was one of 62 students chosen for the nationally competitive award from a pool of 840 undergraduate candidates. He is the ninth UChicago student to earn the award in the past 10 years.
“We are proud that Vivek’s work and accomplishments have been recognized by the Truman Foundation,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “His dedication to improving the child welfare system is a splendid example of the commitment our students have to improving our communities.”
After his first year in the College, Ramakrishnan worked for Chicago-based nonprofit MAPSCorps, leading 16 high school students around the city to collect data on resources and assets within various disadvantaged communities. The following summer, he worked as an intern in the data analytics unit of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services and completed a quantitative evaluation of youth at risk of aging out of the foster care system.
“It felt incredibly meaningful to work toward a data-driven vision of the system that is simultaneously fair to families and protective of children,” Ramakrishnan said.
On campus, Ramakrishnan currently serves as co-president of UAID, a student organization that runs annual initiatives addressing social determinants of health on the South Side of Chicago by forming partnerships with nonprofits, faith-based organizations and health care professionals. He is also a teaching assistant for Assoc. Prof. Anthony Fowler’s course on quantitative methods in public policy.