Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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Exploring careers in technology

New lecture series connects students to innovators

More than 100 students recently packed the Holman Room in Mary Lyon Hall to hear from Jascha Franklin-Hodge, the first speaker in the new TechPaths series hosted by Wheaton’s Library Information Services. The series brings information systems and technology innovators to campus to connect with students through lectures and question-and-answer sessions.

Franklin-Hodge is a founding partner and the chief technology officer at Blue State Digital, an online communications and marketing agency that is best known for its work on President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. In addition to working on the Obama presidential campaigns, Blue State Digital has worked for clients ranging from the USA Bid Committee, an organization lobbying for the World Cup to be held in the U.S. in 2018 or 2022, to Dilma Rousseff, the first female president of Brazil.

Through presentations by high-profile speakers, TechPaths aims to explore the relationship between a career in technology and a liberal arts education. Additionally, the speakers will share information about how liberal arts students can broaden their skill set and learn about technology outside the classroom.

With his impressive résumé, Franklin-Hodge was the perfect choice to be the inaugural TechPaths speaker last Monday, April 1, says Peter Coco, LIS’s Humanities liaison. “Here's a guy making digital tools that spur social action. His work is innovative, but more importantly, it's impactful, and it manifests a lot of the values that resonate with the liberal arts. This is about democracy; citizenship; the role and responsibilities of both the individual and the many. It's in dialog with some of the big questions we ask in the liberal arts.”

During his lecture, Franklin-Hodge focused on the importance of data optimization and authenticity in digital communications. Optimization was Franklin-Hodge’s mantra during the Obama campaign, and he explained to students how every digital step taken during the campaign was continually evaluated and adjusted to increase effectiveness. For example, an online donation page was modified to allow donors to save their payment information, making later donations more convenient and more likely in the future.

He also stressed that great content is what makes digital interaction effective, and that without it, all the data in the world won’t help a business or political candidate.

After the presentation, students asked Franklin-Hodge questions that covered a wide range of topics—from the ethics of digital information gathering to the specific Internet platforms used to build the Obama digital campaign.

The TechPaths lecture series will continue next semester with speaker Daniel Albanese, the mastermind behind a growing digital archive of New York City’s street art. Coco hopes to partner with student groups in planning future speakers.

The TechPath series advisory group includes professors Tom Armstrong, Lisa Lebduska, Josh Stenger and M. Gabriela Torres. Faculty are invited to consider linking TechPath lectures to courses related to technology or the speaker’s larger field, notes Coco.

—Brian Jencunas ’14