The human side of technology: Why UW-Madison students are gravitating to the Information Science major

iSci table
The Information Science table at a Your UW Day event in March 2023 (photo credit: Sandhya Hota).

New technologies have fundamentally altered how people create and consume information. Although the fallout from these seismic shifts is still ongoing, it is clear nonetheless that the information age is propelling society toward prosperity in some ways and instability in others.

Take two prominent examples. First, social media platforms: they make useful information accessible for millions of people globally, but they also harm young people’s mental health and contribute to what the U.S. Surgeon General has called an “epidemic of loneliness.” Second, generative artificial intelligence (AI): it is revolutionizing communication and enhancing human productivity. Yet today’s AI, like the humans that created it, can perpetuate harmful biases against marginalized groups, based on information embedded in lines of code.

These examples raise pressing questions about the evolving relationships between information, technology, and society: How are emerging technologies transforming processes of information creation and exchange? What effects are such changes having on people and societies? And how can we ensure powerful new technologies ultimately serve the public good?

Students across the UW-Madison campus are curious about these questions, and the Information Science (iSci) major is helping them discover answers. In just its second full year as an undergraduate program, the iSci major has drawn over 240 students with relevant subject matter, a flexible and interdisciplinary approach, and the ability to pair with a wide variety of other majors.

“Many undergraduates today are deeply interested in how information technologies impact our individual and collective lives,” said Kristin Eschenfelder, Academic Associate Dean for Computer, Data & Information Sciences. “The Information Science program gives students a unique angle of inquiry, a lens through which they can study how technology and data are changing the world—and how they can be harnessed to improve it.”

Information science, explained (by students)

What, exactly, is information science? Three students, all at different levels of the program, gave answers from their perspective.

“It’s about exploring how information is created and digested,” said Madeline Meyer x’25, an iSci major in her first semester at UW-Madison. Meyer added, “It’s about looking at ethical and societal concerns and thinking about how to use information and technology in unique ways to produce real solutions.”

Put another way, information science is “the study of the ways technology and society interact,” according to Damien Klein x’24 , a double major in Information Science and Data Science. Echoing Klein, Lauren LeVoir x’26 said, information science “looks at how society is being impacted by new technologies.”

iSci students
Information Science majors (from left to right) Lauren LeVoir, Madeline Meyer, and Damien Klein (photos courtesy of the students)

Together, the students’ answers point toward a broad definition: information science studies the dynamic and complex interplay between people, information, and technology. Established in 2022, the iSci major at UW-Madison has gained popularity among experienced undergraduates and incoming freshmen alike. Stacy Harnett, the program’s Academic Advising Manager, said that’s because “as a student, you can customize your path based on your own interests.”

LeVoir, for example, is on the more technical side of the program. She is a double major in iSci and Computer Sciences and was a contestant in the first-ever MadPrompts generative AI competition last fall. She hopes to pursue a career in AI after graduation, and she said the iSci program helps her consider “the ethical side” of these technologies and the importance of “making sure AI is safe.”

Meyer, meanwhile, approaches iSci from a different perspective. She has a keen interest in sustainable business practices as one of the leaders of the Ethical and Responsible Business Network, a student organization based on the idea that “sustainability and profitability go hand in hand.” Meyer hopes to harness her iSci education to put technology to work in environmentally responsible ways. As a sustainability intern for Zoe’s Pizzeria, she conducted research on (and helped implement) environmentally responsible strategies like using all-electric delivery vehicles and investing in a fully electric pizza oven.

Klein said he chose iSci because of a passion for “equitable information access and algorithmic transparency.” In his career, he hopes to prevent and mitigate biases in algorithms that determine if people are eligible, for example, for bank loans. Klein will be applying his skills as a business analyst at Capital One after graduation this spring.

Three students, three unique paths. This reflects how the pervasiveness of technology across society, in sectors from business to government to philanthropy, allows iSci students to pursue careers with their individual passions top-of-mind.

Flexible and interdisciplinary

The BA/BS degree in Information Science is flexible and adaptable, requiring 30 credit hours from a broad range of courses based in departments across campus, from Computer Sciences and Statistics to History of Science and Communication Arts. It is compatible with almost any other major or certificate that undergraduates can pursue. As a result, the major is expanding access to technology- and data-focused education to a broader and more diverse group of UW-Madison students than ever.

At the heart of the iSci program is the core major curriculum, and among these courses, the students recommended a few that stood out to them:

  • LeVoir particularly enjoyed LIS 407, Data Storytelling with Visualization with iSchool Associate Professor Emilee Rader. She said it taught her to create compelling visualizations, “so that people can understand the data you’re showing and the message you’re communicating.”
  • Meyer is currently fascinated by LIS 500, Code & Power, taught by Distinguished Teaching Faculty member Dorothea Salo. “This course builds the critical thinking necessary for analyzing and critiquing emerging and existing technologies,” she said, “especially concerning their biases and potential harms.”
  • Klein appreciated LIS 461, Data and Algorithms: Ethics and Policy. He said the course helped open his eyes to “the human, sociological aspect of the rapid technological development that we’ve been going through.”

The majority of iSci majors are double majors or pursuing certificates, reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of information science itself. And as the iSci major accumulates alumni, a growing cohort of Badgers will be working across the state, the country, and beyond, at the intersection of technology and humanity. They will be equipped with what Klein called “the ethical foundations” to “ensure that we create responsible technologies that operate for the good of the people.”

LeVoir agreed: “The major has helped me understand how important it is to look closely at the societal impacts of technology. After all, it’s having an effect on real people.”

To learn more about the Information Science undergraduate major, visit its website.

If you have questions about the major, contact Stacy Harnett, iSchool Academic Advising Manager, at