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Mack using intersection of humanity and data to address violence

Civic Scholar Dylan Mack ’24 is pursuing his passion of addressing violence in communities by putting his data science skills to work at Cure Violence Global. 

For Dylan Mack, a Class of 2024 Bob and Gerry Virgil Civic Scholar humanity should always be at the core of data science.  

“As someone who is interested in data, it’s so important to always have in the forefront of your mind that every single data point is a person, first and foremost,” Mack said. 

This is just one of many holistic practices Mack has learned from his time at Cure Violence Global so far this summer. 

Cure Violence Global, based out of Chicago, Illinois, is a public health-centered non-profit. The heart of its mission surrounds the idea that violence in communities overlaps with a lot of other public health issues. 

“It changes through time. It’s different depending on the neighborhood that you’re looking at. There are just so many things that affect what violence looks like,” Mack said. He found out about the organization through the Civic Scholars Program and the Center for Public Health Systems Science at WashU. 

Cure Violence Global helps create policy in a way that facilitates how the Cure Violence program will operate according to each community’s specific needs. Mack’s job is to work specifically with the city of Durham, North Carolina, to pinpoint what areas of public health need to be addressed. 

To help the process along, Mack detailed that the non-profit will send out a “Risk, Needs, and Resilience” assessment that is to be filled out on the behalf of program participants. With these insights, Cure Violence can better adjust their approach to each neighborhood. One of Mack’s tasks this summer is to use factor analysis in order to improve the accuracy and ease of the survey for both patrons and analyzers.  

He explained that the process is as follows: The surveys are filled out, the data is turned over to someone like Mack, the data is analyzed for patterns or trends, and, finally, the synthesized insights from the data are returned to the Cure Violence Global team. 

“I am also creating the tools for them to be able to reproduce that same work when I’m gone, so that after these three months, I can hand them these pieces of code or software tools that is in a format that is accessible and sustainable,” Mack stated. 

Face-to-face learning has been instrumental in Mack’s immersion into the Cure Violence program. Last semester, Mack was able to meet his supervisor, Dr. Charles Elliott, in person. Elliott serves in Chicago as director of data management for Cure Violence Global, and the meeting, Mack believes, was key to his understanding of the program’s mission. A big part of Cure Violence’s operations is to send “violence interrupters” into communities to undertake the methods curated from the data analysis. This idea of community outreach was something Mack was well-versed in through his experience as a Civic Scholar. 

“I think one of the great things that the [Civic] Scholars Program encouraged us to do is break the WashU bubble. There were moments where I was able to listen to these people who exist in a space that I don’t occupy otherwise,” Mack said, about working with and learning from violence interrupters. 

That is where Mack’s background in sociology played a role, so he can better bridge the gap between structural inequalities and how those inequalities are supported quantitively. Mack was able to make this possible with the help of the Civic Scholars Program, where he could take his engineering knowledge and apply it effectively.  

“That kind of planted the seed, where I was thinking about what it means for violence to be a public health issue and to think of it that way, rather than thinking of it as a criminal issue, because those are very different mindsets,” Mack said about his time learning from Cure Violence. 

Working for Cure Violence Global helped Mack to visualize a future for himself that marries his two passions. He finds himself pondering other ways in which quantitative modeling can be used to make each and every community a more equitable and better place. Along these lines, Mack discovered the ever-changing field called operations research. Its origins are largely based in military planning, but it has permeated into areas of business and, according to Mack, has great potential in public policy. Bolstered by his work this summer, Mack is inspired to find solutions to new questions he has found in his work. 

“How do we manage food supply chains for organizations like UNICEF or how can we make sure that the most food gets to the most amount of people with the least amount of waste?” he said. “These are the kinds of problems that I’m interested on working on long term.” 

The Civic Scholars Program educates undergraduate students who exemplify current and future potential for civic leadership. Up to 18 rising juniors are selected for the two-year program based on their enduring commitment to civic and community engagement. The program includes intensive coursework, leadership training, and mentorship to prepare Civic Scholars for a life dedicated to civic and community engagement, and a financial stipend to support a substantial Civic Summer project or internship. Learn more about the students who have dedicated their 2023 summer to civic and community impact. If you are interested in applying or nominating a student for the 2024 program, applications will be available online in the fall. If you would like to make a gift to support the Civic Scholars Program, please contact Colleen Watermon at