Crunching community organizing: LCW student awarded scholarship for data-driven boot camp

LCW student awarded scholarship for data-driven boot camp

Date: August 13, 2013
Raphaela Abramson received a full scholarship to the New Organizing Institute\'s Data Boot Camp.
Raphaela Abramson received a full scholarship to the New Organizing Institute's Data Boot Camp.
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Marla Cohen
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To hear Raphaela Abramson talk, you would think spreadsheets are awe inspiring.

And in a 21st century way, she’s right. According to Abramson the secrets to progressive policies, successful political campaigns and the essence of what makes America beautiful lies within them.

She’ll get a chance to demonstrate that, while honing her number crunching skills in the service of change at the week-long Data Boot Camp hosted by the New Organizing Institute (NOI) in Washington. Abramson, a senior at Lander College for Women-The Anna Ruth and Mark Hasten School (LCW), received a full scholarship to attend the program, which will cover the basics of voter file data. She’ll learn skills to clean and manage data using Excel, VAN and SQL, as well as develop strategies for targeting voters, structuring a campaign program and building and presenting information to report on campaign progress.

“I’m really excited, even though it sounds kind of dull and technical to most people,” said Abramson, who attended Bais Yaakov of Miami and then Michlalah in Jerusalem before enrolling at LCW.

“We’ll be working in VAN — Voter Activation Network. That’s the software that President Obama’s campaign and the Democrats use. It’s very powerful and very cool. I can get really geeky about it.”

NOI arrived on the scene in 2005, combining cutting-edge data analysis with old fashioned community organizing in its effort to promote and sustain progressive causes. Abramson became familiar with the organization after working on the Obama campaign in 2012. When the opportunity arose to attend the organization’s Data Boot Camp beginning on Aug. 11, she wasted no time applying, writing the many short essays about her past experience and what causes interested her. Her efforts yielded a full scholarship to attend the training.

“The admissions process is very competitive,” said Evan Sutton, NOI’s communications director. “There are several factors we look for in participants. The biggest one is desire to get engaged in progressive politics and apply the learning immediately in the field. We also test to make sure applicants have a certain level of aptitude in core areas of data literacy, and look for people from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences, among other factors.”

Each Data Boot Camp attracts approximately 250 applicants, he said. Of those 18 percent received scholarships.

Abramson’s father, Henry, is dean of academic affairs and student services at Touro College South, and her mother, Ilana, is director of admissions there. Abramson chose to attend Touro’s LCW because of the reputation of its political science major. And while she never really pictured herself as a number-crunching geek, she admits to being “a little bit of a perfectionist” who likes “having neat lists, neat data and analyzing charts.”

“It wasn’t something I cared about before, but when I was working on the campaign, I really loved information, figuring out where productive activity was, where we were lacking and where we were doing well.”

With a busy campaign season approaching, Abramson has managed to find the perfect expression for her interests, as she learns to harness data — all in the service of change.

The Lander College for Women is an undergraduate division of Touro, a student-centered college located in midtown Manhattan where Jewish women follow a rigorous academic program as they pursue their baccalaureate degrees, while continuing and deepening their Torah education and commitment. For more information on the Lander College for Women, please go to