Fellow Profile: Vanessa Ortiz

 |   Vanessa Ortiz, Microsoft New York Civic Tech Fellow

Microsoft New York fellow Vanessa Ortiz

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Long Island in a village known as Valley Stream, but I also have a lot of family in Yonkers and the Bronx. I’ve commuted back and forth all my life. The city has always felt like a second home to me. That feeling encouraged me to want to explore the city even more and so I was motivated to apply to the City University of New York’s Lehman College. My experiences and involvement in my college community in the Bronx has made me feel like I am even more a part of the broader New York community.

School/grad year/major:

I am a double major in Mathematics and Computer Science at Lehman College. As a senior in my Mathematics B.A degree and a junior in my Computer Science B.S. degree, I am expecting to graduate in Fall 2019.

Last thing you searched on Bing:

The last thing I searched on Bing was “Design Thinking.”

Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program?

I am the Vice Chair and Co-Founder for the Women in Computer Science Club (WiCS) at Lehman College and an active member of the NSBE-SHPE clubs too. Being very active on campus has caused me to bump into so many incredible people including Rosemarie Encarnacion, another Microsoft Civic Tech Fellow and the Co-Founder and current Chair of the WiCS club. After she shared with me her wonderful experience with the Microsoft Cities team, I did some research on the remarkable projects the team has produced. I was quickly intrigued, and I delved into researching the technological innovations Microsoft has designed to help New York City communities. I was truly impressed. I became eager to be a part of the team. I wanted to not just help but to become part of making an awe-inspiring positive impact across New York City.

What’s your favorite civic project in the New York area?

That is a tough question because I am stuck between Microsoft Translator and Tech Jobs Academy. Both are such impactful projects. Microsoft Translator has helped with language barriers which I think is an important issue to address, especially in such a diverse area like New York. Communication is key to successfully improving anything data-related. More data and technology combined can massively impact communities. The reason I really like Tech Jobs Academy as well is because of how much this work can impact the lives of people that really yearn for that equal opportunity to show their true potential. I also believe that projects like these create a huge positive domino effect towards helping others who may have been in the same situation by inspiring them to have even larger career goals.

Who is your civic tech mentor/idol?

I am working with a wonderful team led by John Paul Farmer, who has already helped make a lot of these amazing projects happen at Microsoft New York. He has already become and mentor and I hope to be working alongside him for these upcoming projects at Microsoft Cities. I am also getting mentorship from Yao Gbanaglo and Rosemarie Encarnacion during my fellowship. I know that throughout this great fellowship journey I will be introduced to many more tremendously passionate individuals working towards influencing civic tech.

What projects are you working on for your position as a Civic Tech Fellow for Microsoft New York?

There are a handful of projects that the team and I are aiming to bring about in New York City. Currently, we are focusing on adding extra features to the Civic Graph project, which is a great learning process. In addition, we continue to work on developing chatbots, leveraging open data, and building new digital tools for the community.

What excites you about civic tech?

The spectacular impact that can be produced by combining open data with creative new technologies excites me. Along with how much these projects are building bridges of communication between society and its representatives, it brings me joy to know that many people will benefit from technology that uses society’s feedback and data to help develop better indications to our government as to what to focus most on in order to make big changes that are needed.

What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities?

I’m optimistic about so many, but one specific issue is accessibility. We can build and deploy technologies that include older generations and other communities that have historically been overlooked.