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‘Serendipitous’ journey for W&M senior leads to aspirations in global development, data and leadership

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    A Better World:  When he first came to W&M, Matt Crittenden '21 had goals of making the world a better place. "You know, it's still true," he says.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Matt Crittenden 21 aspires to build systems in data and policy that contribute to a better world. He is passionate about the applications and ethics of digital technology for global governance and socioeconomic justice.

Crittenden, who was born in Tokyo and moved in 2001 to Chesapeake, Virginia, also hopes to be a role model for future Asian American students in the global governance and development community.

A 2021 Rhodes Scholarship finalist, Crittenden is in on pace to graduate in May with a degree in international relations and data science.

He plans to spend this summer as an inaugural Civic Innovation Corps – Coding it Forward member with the New York City Department of City Planning’s data engineering team before returning to Japan for the first time in 15 years. There, he plans to brush up on his Japanese language skills and work remotely on various “data for development” projects before applying next year to U.S. and U.K. graduate programs in social data science and data ethics.

“When it comes to my interests in policy, global development, even international relations in general, you don’t see very many Asian American faces in that field,” Crittenden said. “But to find a Japanese American dude who’s working in development, whether in the U.S. or globally, I’ve never really had a role model for that, so I would like to be that type of person for the next generation of Asian Americans.”

Crittenden knew William & Mary was the right place for him when he attended the Day for Admitted Students and learned about opportunities to engage with global development, data science and interdisciplinary innovation.

That also happened to be his 18th birthday weekend.

“It was a nice gift for turning 18,” Crittenden said. “My overall journey to William & Mary was nothing less than serendipitous, and I’m continually thankful for it.

“When I applied to William & Mary, I knew that I had an interest in international relations, and I wanted to make the world a better place, as naïve as it sounds,” Crittenden added. “You know, it’s still true.”

An AidData presentation on “Data for Good” inspired Crittenden to attend William & Mary, and he has since worked at both AidData and the Global Research Institute’s Student Organization for Medical Outreach and Sustainability (SOMOS) team in the Ignite lab, a community-based health development research team in the Dominican Republic. In the summer of 2019, he spent 11 weeks in the Philippines as a joint Freeman Foundation-GRI Summer Fellow with the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability – East Asia Pacific's CheckMySchool initiative. He also serves as an inaugural member of GRI’s student leadership committee.

Crittenden founded his own research team, geoParsing, at William & Mary’s Geospatial Evaluation and Observation Lab (geoLab) in the fall of 2018. His team’s work was the first of its kind to foster collaboration between undergraduate students and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and it has led to multiple papers being featured on the front page of His three years working with geoLab also motivated his senior honors thesis, which leverages machine learning and open-source data to better inform foreign policy and development.

“Matt is an excellent student, and I’m very confident that he will excel at anything he puts his mind to. He’s one of the most meticulous and brilliant undergraduate students that I have met during a decade of teaching at the university level,” said Chinua Thelwell, associate professor of Africana studies and history and a founding faculty member of the university’s Asian & Pacific Islander American Studies program.

Crittenden’s academic achievements are numerous. He has been a James Monroe Scholar at William & Mary since his freshman year. He was also recognized as a 2021 Cypher Award Recipient and has been published as a co-author.

He credits many professors, faculty members and students at W&M for supporting him along the way. He says the geoLab, GRI, APIA Studies program and The Charles Center were particularly impactful throughout his undergraduate career.

 “If I have to talk about what I’ve done, I couldn’t have done any of it without the support of so many people I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet here,” Crittenden said. “There are so many people who are willing to help you succeed at William & Mary, and I believe that really sets the university apart.”