May 02, 2023
CMU alumna Chizobam Nwagwu creates 'people-centered policy' for the U.S. government
By Jennifer Monahan
Carnegie Mellon University alumna Chizobam Nwagwu is passionate about public interest technology.
As a member of the inaugural cohort of U.S. Digital Corps Fellows, she is transforming her passion into action.
“Public interest technology” may be an unfamiliar term to those outside the public policy or tech worlds. It aims to integrate technology, public policy, ethics and governance to serve the common good. Chizobam, a Class of 2021 Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy graduate with a master's degree in public policy and management, succinctly describes it as creating “people-centered policy.”
In June 2022, Chizobam joined 37 other fellows with skillsets ranging from software engineering, data science, design, cybersecurity and other critical technology fields who have spread out across various agencies of the federal government. Chizobam’s current placement for the two-year fellowship is with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
“We work with dedicated civil servants to solve some really different types of complex problems in health care, specifically as they relate to Medicare and Medicaid,” Chizobam explains.
Chizobam, who was involved with a variety of public interest technology projects through the Policy Innovation Lab during graduate school at Carnegie Mellon, brings the lens of human-centered design to her work with CMS.
“You're trying to serve or improve their experience in some way, and so that often involves user research. We talk to people who have experience going through a process and try to understand their needs and any pain points they might be experiencing.”
That unique lens means first trying to understand people’s needs.
“You're trying to serve or improve their experience in some way, and so that often involves user research,” Chizobam explains. “We talk to people who have experience going through a process and try to understand their needs and any pain points they might be experiencing.”
That insight into the user experience provides the foundation for better solutions. Chizobam says her experience at Heinz College was pivotal in shaping how she thinks about policy.
“(Heinz College Distinguished Service Professor) Chris Goranson’s class was a really great introduction to public interest technology,” Chizobam says. “It helped me understand what it means for a policy to put people at the center of implementation of different solutions.”
Chizobam credits Goranson with introducing her to using technology, design and project management skills to create solutions that serve public institutions.
Through her work with Professor Goranson in the Policy Innovation Lab, Chizobam got hands-on experience collaborating on projects for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the New York City Office of Resiliency. Those experiences cemented her interest in the intersection of policy and design and reinforced her understanding of the importance of listening to people who are affected by policy.
She has been engaged with the U.S. Digital Corps for nearly a year, and Chizobam is inspired by her colleagues and energized by her work.
“I’m excited to really learn how human-centered design can be helpful in reducing some of the administrative burdens experienced by CMS enrollees, providers and program administrators,” Chizobam says.
Working at the intersection of public service and technology is a theme woven throughout her academic and professional journey.
During college, she participated in the Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute, where she co-authored a policy analysis report on the opioid epidemic in West Virginia. As a Fulbright Scholar, she pursued an independent research project in Lagos, Nigeria, to study substance abuse among young people. After graduating from Heinz College, she served as a Coding It Forward Civic Digital Fellow at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“I've always been interested in work that's in service of others,” Chizobam says.
With her current role as a U.S. Digital Corps Fellow, Chizobam believes her efforts will have significant impact. She hopes to continue those contributions for years to come.