Undergraduate certificate in public interest technology



The Field

Our world is complex, and technology driven. Data, information and other emerging technologies (broadly defined) are driving progress in all sectors and are relevant to every major offered at UMass Amherst.
Public Interest Technology (PIT) as defined by the PIT-University Network – where UMass Amherst is a member – is as follows: “The study and application of technology expertise to advance the public interest, generate public benefits, and/or advance the public good” (McGuinness and Schank, 2021: 142).
The goal of this certificate is to give students a background in Public Interest Technology through the opportunity to develop (1) social literacy,  (2) pragmatic strategies to promote the public interest, and (3) technological literacy.  Students with this background, no matter what their major, will be able to address problems in a more socially responsible way, i.e. in a way that both empowers them and promotes the well-being of the communities in which they live. Our goal is to educate new generations of “Public Interest Technologists” – people who think carefully about advances in technology with the public interest and public good in mind. 

The UMass Amherst PIT Certificate is available to all undergraduate students in every major across the campus, regardless of their primary field of study, and students with Public Interest Technology insights will bring important new perspectives to their studies. Students completing the Certificate will leave campus with documentation that signals that they have received serious and important training in “PIT and PIT-related challenges” that are needed to advance society and be 21st century professionals and citizens. Ultimately, the goal of this Certificate is to give students the education to develop a public interest technology perspective and gain a sense of social responsibility which will become a core influence as they move into professional careers and engage with their communities.

We encourage students to enroll as early as possible to help plan academic progress and ensure timely completion. 

The Curriculum
The Certificate requires five courses (15 or more credits) to be taken:

  1. A Foundation course, CICS 127: Introduction to Public Interest Technology

  2. Three electives, one selected from each of three areas:

    • Social Literacy: These are courses about social controls that can be used to create impact – markets, regulations, law, policy, standards, agencies and enforcement, social change and movements, etc. A list of the currently approved social literacy courses can be found here.

    • Public Interest Literacy: These are courses that address public interest topics such as Equity, Ethics, Privacy, Security, Safety, Social Justice, Sustainability, etc. A list of approved Public Interest Literacy courses can be found here.

    • Technical Literacy: Courses about data and information technologies that focus on how technology is structured, how it is used, and how it impacts society. A list of approved Technical Literacy courses can be found here.

      (Note: This Technical Literacy elective is not meant to give students explicit expertise or mastery in a particular technology but rather to let them get some expertise in a technology that connects to where students are headed in their careers, and where they could connect and apply their gained Social Literacy and Public Interest Literacy to that technical area.)

  3. A Capstone course bookends the curriculum by providing students with experience with a PIT-related real-world application. A list of approved Capstone courses or options can be found here

Certificate Rules

  • One elective can be at any level (100-500), but the other two should be at the 200 level or higher, unless the student receives approval from their faculty advisor.
  • No more than two courses can be taken from the same department.
  • Also, the UMass registrar’s “double-dipping” rule applies (see registrar’s page): “No more than two courses used to fulfill the requirements of any one credential may be applied towards the fulfillment of another credential, wherein “credential” is defined as an academic degree program (major), minor, or certificate. One course may only be applied to two credentials.”
  • Students must have a minimum 2.00 cumulative GPA for courses applied to the Certificate. All courses must be taken on a graded basis.

Questions or interested in enrolling

This PIT Undergraduate Certificate, being an interdisciplinary academic program, is administrated under the UMass Amherst Information Technology Program, in partnership with PIT@UMass.  

For more questions or to enroll, contact Professor Charlie Schweik at cschweik@umass.edu.