Munther Dahleh speaks to a class at BREIT in Peru.

IDSS and BREIT establish Fortunato and Catalina Brescia Fellowship

February 6, 2023

Since 2019, IDSS has had a Strategic Partnership with BREIT, a philanthropic initiative of the Brescia family, who own the Peruvian business conglomerate Breca. Both organizations share a commitment to advancing the education of data science skills. Now, through a generous donation to MIT, BREIT and IDSS have established the Fortunato and Catalina Brescia Fellowship Fund, with the purpose of supporting IDSS graduate students.

“The Fortunato and Catalina Brescia Fellowship will enable us to support brilliant MIT students working on societal challenges at the intersections of multiple fields,” said IDSS director Munther Dahleh. “Meanwhile, online learners in Peru and around the world are getting a rigorous, graduate-level education through the MicroMasters Program in Statistics and Data Science, which has the power to unlock new opportunities and insights. IDSS is fortunate to have a very productive partnership with BREIT around the MicroMasters that continues to deliver value in Peru and here at MIT.”

IDSS first partnered with BREIT as they were developing a data science program incubated at Breca’s social impact platform Aporta. The program’s educational outreach began with a gift from Ana Maria Brescia Cafferata, the daughter of Breca’s late founder, with the goal of empowering Peruvian professionals with opportunities to learn career-enhancing skills — and to provide much-needed talent across Peruvian industry and government.

BREIT — the Brescia Institute of Advanced Technology — provides affordable, cutting-edge educational programs to talented professionals, and has the mission to train and develop the next generations of data scientists to be agents of positive social and economic impact in Peru. Its flagship program is the Advanced Program in Data Science and Global Skills.

Through the Advanced Program in Data Science and Global Skills, learners take the MITx MicroMasters Program in Statistics and Data Science, created by IDSS faculty. In addition to this rigorous education in statistics, probability, data analysis, and machine learning, co-curricular modules developed by BREIT hone critical business skills like communication, teamwork, leadership, and cross-cultural competency.

The data science program was started with a desire to give back to Peru, and that ethos is built into the program itself. Learners study examples of how data analysis is used in development and sustainability work, and apply their developing skills to projects sponsored by local NGOs. They’ve contributed to projects like building a database of childhood poverty information for a social justice NGO, developing data-driven public health messaging, and bringing new data-derived insights to policy research. IDSS developed a rubric to help guide these projects toward success, and offers regular feedback to strengthen their analysis of data.

Addressing societal challenges is a critical component of the IDSS mission, one that is baked into IDSS academic programs. With the support of the Fortunato and Catalina Brescia Fellowship, IDSS graduate students will conduct transformative research at the intersections of complex technological systems, societal institutions, and human behavior, applying cutting-edge data analysis and computation. The fellowship also presents a great opportunity for IDSS to recruit outstanding graduate students from Latin America. 

For Strategic Partners like BREIT, IDSS grad students will support their online learners by acting as TAs, adding additional recitation and review sessions, crafting supplemental materials, answering questions, and providing feedback on learner projects. IDSS also takes an active role in problem-solving for program success. IDSS faculty and staff collaborated with BREIT on the development of a new technical skills assessment that aids in program recruitment. This assessment assesses prerequisite knowledge, but also challenges applicants to critically problem solve — and helps let them know where they might need to brush up to prepare for the program. 

There have been seven cohorts put together by BREIT so far, and four have completed the program. That’s 68 learners with the MicroMasters credential in Statistics and Data Science and another 73 in the pipeline. 

“Our partnership with MIT IDSS is key to supporting talented Peruvian professionals in a field that is growing and becoming more relevant for all organizations around the world,” said Lucia Haro, manager of BREIT. “IDSS provides a rigorous and thoughtful education, together with relevant tools needed to train the future leaders in the data science field. We are proud of what we have accomplished together and the positive impact we are having in the professional development of our students. Our aim is to contribute to the economic development of our country, and the gift expands on this desire by giving high-quality education opportunities to the best talent.” 

The MicroMasters program remains a vital core to the IDSS partnership with BREIT. The courses have enrolled tens of thousands of learners all around the world, and there are now nearly 1,200 credential holders from 89 countries. One of the leading countries for learners who have successfully completed the program is Peru.

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