An in-depth analysis of infrastructure in rural areas is at the heart of a Missouri University of Science and Technology research project funded to the tune of $90,000 by the Public Interest University Technology Network (PIT-ONE). Public interest technology refers to a set of practices that guide the design, deployment, and governance of technology in ways that promote the public interest.
The award, which recognizes a project led by Dr. Casey Canfield, assistant professor of engineering management and systems engineering, spans 18 months and is PIT-UN’s first S&T grant. since I joined the organization in August. Project partners include the University of Missouri Extension, the Meramec Regional Planning Commission and the Missouri Association of Councils of Government, which coordinates planning commissions across the state. Within S&T, partners include the departments of economics and civil, architectural and environmental engineering.
The grant was awarded as part of PIT-UN’s Network Challenge. Since 2019, the challenge has provided more than $15 million to 145 projects that foster interdisciplinary perspectives and those that help develop a public interest technology workforce across government, industry and social impact organizations.
Canfield plans to host a series of interactive one-day summits in 2024. With a focus on infrastructure, a term she says broadly refers to entities such as energy, broadband and healthcare, the summits will bring together industry leaders, students and individuals. who live in rural communities, with a focus on what rural communities need in terms of infrastructure and how these needs differ from those required in urban communities. The research will focus on Dent, Phelps, Pulaski and Texas counties in Missouri.
After the initial summit, students will select a topic they would like to study during the semester. At the end of the semester, students will reconvene to present their research and recommendations.
“One of our goals is to get students excited about solving rural infrastructure problems, and maybe even trying to solve them as a career,” Canfield says. “We also want to demonstrate the importance of critical thinking before jumping straight to a solution. We hope that hearing people from different industries present the challenges they face in rural settings will inspire our students to think about what rural infrastructure could look like if we optimized it for the rural environment.
The project also integrates issues of equity and justice, which have been prioritized by PIT-ONU. By learning how technology design often overlooks rural communities, a topic Canfield has studied in the context of broadband Internet access, students will learn to recognize the often exclusionary consequences of deploying technology in rural communities without first understanding these communities.
“Maybe we can radically change the way we do things and help rural communities achieve better outcomes,” she says.
The Center for Science, Technology and Society (CSTS) will celebrate S&T’s recent membership in the Public Interest University Technology Network (PIT-UN) with a launch party on Friday, October 20 at 2 p.m. at the Collaboratory, located in the department of human and social sciences. Social Sciences Building on the S&T campus. The event is free and open to the public.
With 60 U.S.-based members and four international members, PIT-UN fosters collaboration among colleges and universities to grow the field of public interest technology. PIT-UN leaders hope to train technologists who understand the societal impact of technology and have the skills to integrate rights, justice, social protection and the public good into its design, deployment and governance within business, government and society as a whole.
About Missouri University of Science and Technology
Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university with more than 7,000 students located in Rolla, Missouri. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri system, Missouri S&T offers more than 100 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top public universities in salary impact, according to the Wall Street Journal. For more information about Missouri science and technology, visit www.mst.edu.