A Passion for Political Data and Public Service

Joelle Gross, C ’21, talks about her “life-changing” experience with the Penn Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies.

This past summer, on a dozen Zoom boxes, young girls dressed as superheroes listened to Joelle Gross, C ’21, talk about reading arcs, comic books, and female heroes. Gross was a virtual camp counselor for girls ages five to 12 at Girls Inc. of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, a nonprofit that delivers programs and experiences that “equip girls to overcome serious barriers to grow up strong, smart, and bold.” Her counselor position was part of her Robert A. Fox Leadership Fellowship, a paid, eight- to 10-week summer fellowship opportunity for service-oriented Penn students.

Joelle Gross, C ’21

“Right now, we are all missing out on things because of the pandemic,” says Gross. “If I can help kids who are maybe scared and stuck at home to have some bright spots in their days, that’s what matters and, honestly, it helps me to get through this as well.”

Another part of Gross’ fellowship was to help Girls Inc. research and plan a fall summit on civic engagement and the election. The event featured virtual breakout discussions and activities for the girls to learn about topics like voting, the electoral college, and, for the older group, voter suppression.

The summit isn’t the first time Gross has taken on politics. In summer 2019, she had a fellowship through the Penn Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies (PORES), an undergraduate program that takes a data-driven approach to social science issues.

During her stint with PORES, Gross worked with John Lapinksi, Robert A. Fox Professor of Political Science, who directs both PORES and the Fox Leadership Program. She also worked closely with Stephen Pettigrew, PORES Director of Data Sciences and the Deputy Executive Director of the Fox Leadership Program. She helped to clean over a decade’s worth of election data that will inform Lapinski and Pettigrew’s analysis on election night.

“I’m passionate about theater and originally thought I’d would work in that area over my summer, but my sophomore year, I took two data classes with Professors Daniel Hopkins and John Lapinksi that I really loved. That experience introduced me to a new passion, data science, and applying it to politics, and that led me to PORES and to declare a minor in the subject,” says Gross who is a major in the politics, philosophy, and economics program.

On election night, PORES professors will be busy as they analyze returns at the NBC decision desk. Gross will be behind the scenes supporting that critical work with data collection.


By Katelyn Silva