Design Mentors & Researchers

We've assembled an exceptional team to lead the sprint. We are all pleased to meet you and hope you join our open science project.


Design Mentors


Noel Cunningham

Product Design Lead, Mokriya
Lecturer, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Noel is passionate about making complex information clear, useful, approachable, and memorable. She's a champion of human-centered design—and loves building products, services, and experiences that create positive impact in the world. She brings a multidisciplinary skill set with diverse work experience spanning design studios, consultancies, academic institutions, nonprofits, government agencies, and startups. Committed to training the next generation of design leaders, Noel teaches courses at School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is a mentor at DesignLab. She holds an MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).


Akemi Hong

Principal, Studio Akemi
Lecturer, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Akemi is a creative storyteller distinguished by her breadth of skills, a collaborative spirit, and end-to-end design abilities. Along with fellow City Sprint team members, Akemi shares a commitment to building social good. These efforts manifest in social ventures such as BallotReady and collaborations with documentary production company, Scrappers Film Group. Her studio practice trains its lens on storytelling, branding, and product design. In addition, Akemi mentors new leaders and UI/UX designers in SAIC's AWWW Club.


Ania Kolak

Strategy and Experience Consultant

Ania facilitates breakthroughs and innovations for organizations and individuals. She is a growth catalyst with nearly twenty years of experience consulting on strategy and design innovation for products, services, systems, processes, and environments. Ania works with fortune 100 companies, not-for-profits, and startups in industries such as healthcare, business intelligence, big data, biotechnology, and education. Her approach incorporates methods from architecture, behavioral psychology, lean manufacturing, and design thinking to identify challenges, derive insights, unlock opportunities, and rapidly test and learn.

Ania received a master of architecture degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a bachelor's degree in psychology from The University of Chicago. She also has urban and wilderness EMT certifications, just in case.


Zhenqi Ong

Senior Designer, Studio 424

Zhenqi, or Z for short, is a communication designer with a strong passion for dynamic branding and social-conscious design. Her expertise in typography and layout brings messages across in compelling ways. Being effectively bilingual and having a global perspective has helped her to be a better designer and person. She believes that empathy is one of the most important traits a designer should have.

Z holds an MFA in Visual Communication Design from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BA in Industrial Design from the National University of Singapore.




Marynia Kolak, Ph.D.

Assistant Director for Health Informatics, Center for Spatial Data Science
University of Chicago

Marynia investigates issues of equity across space and time using applied spatial analytic and causal methods with policy-driven, systems-integrating solutions. Her two main focuses are: (1) measuring geographical effects in longitudinal quasi-experimental health policy analysis, and (2) developing open source public health informatics tools to integrate data, analytics, and design needed to make evidence-based decisions. Current research includes evaluating impacts of resource access on health outcomes, modeling social determinants of health at scale, and moving siloed systems towards more elegant, powerful open science infrastructures for (big) spatial data and dynamic analysis. She collaborates with Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, the Chicago Department of Public Health, and community organizations interested in building healthier and more equitable places.


Julia Koschinsky, Ph.D.

Research Director, Center for Spatial Data Science
University of Chicago

Julia's role in this project is to apply spatial thinking and analytics to the question of tracking public spending and identifying service gaps to reveal funding locations and spatial mismatches. For over 10 years she has been conducting research to gain insights from the spatial dimensions of urban challenges in housing, health, and the built environment and managing research awards of over $8 million. Her work applying spatial and evaluation methods spans more than 20 years in the academic, private, and nonprofit sectors.


Nicole Marwell, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Social Services Administration
University of Chicago

Nicole P. Marwell's research examines urban governance, with a focus on the diverse intersections between nonprofit organizations, government bureaucracies, and politics. Marwell’s approach to studying urban governance draws on an interdisciplinary set of insights and tools from sociology, organization studies, ethnic studies, political science, and public administration. Her work examines the complex and shifting sets of inter-organizational relations underlying urban processes such as public goods distribution, community formation, and democratic representation. Marwell uses qualitative, quantitative, and historical methods to explore how changes in this meso-level of social structure affect urban cohesion, inequality, and exclusion. Her research has been published by the University of Chicago Press, the American Sociological Review, Social Service Review, the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Urban Studies, City & Community, and other outlets, and supported by the National Science Foundation, the Helmsley Foundation, and the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies.


Erin Ochoa

Spatial Data Science for Health Fellow, Center for Spatial Data Science
University of Chicago

Erin is a Master's student in the Computational Social Science program at the University of Chicago.  She has a Bachelor's from the University of New Mexico, where she majored in Criminology and minored in Statistics.  She has previously interned with the New Mexico Sentencing Commission, the New Mexico Statistical Analysis Center, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.