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MHP’s Tom Hopper and BU SPARK! are the right match

Posted on January 26, 2024

BOSTON --- Tom Hopper knows his way around data. In his 17 years at MHP he has developed database systems, designed metrics, and created data tools and analytical reports that have helped shape state policy and the conversation around the commonwealth’s housing needs.

That’s likely among the reasons why Hopper, MHP’s Director of the Center for Housing Data, was asked in 2021 to become an Expert in Residence for BU Spark!, an innovation and experiential learning lab at Boston University for computing, data science and engineering projects. Spark! aims to help students realize their potential and passion by taking on projects with real world clients and providing access to resources, expert support, and mentorship to produce successful results.

The program brings in experts in residence to provide guidance on policy and data issues. Supported by these experts, students participating in Spark! get professional coaching, practice managing clients, and valuable research experience, all training Hopper wishes he had gotten when he was an undergraduate. A double alumnus of BU, he earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and his master’s degree in city planning.

In addition to being an educational tool, Hopper says Spark! has become a great recruitment vehicle. “It’s my responsibility as someone who came up through the public policy field to share some of the things I’ve learned,” he says, “policy development increasingly relies on research using creative data sets. We need bright, young data professionals in the government and nonprofit sectors, and we need to be able to compete with other industries where students use these skills.”

With Hopper’s guidance, BU Spark! students have gained experience working with influential clients in the field, including state representatives, Boston city councilors, housing non-profits, and advocacy groups. Topics have ranged from quantifying available public land for housing development, to analyzing rental assistance programs with an equity lens, to designing an interactive website that identifies “scofflaw” landlords.

Spark students at the commencement celebration.

“I value getting to work on housing-related projects each semester with teams of students who are thinking about where they want to take their talents after they graduate." Tom has been delighted to see some Spark! graduates go on to work in the public sector on the municipal or state level. “It’s really cool when a computer science or data science student enters the Spark! program, gets to work on a housing project or a public policy project with a city councilor or a state representative or a nonprofit group and they start to understand the issue that they’re studying and become passionate about it,” he continues.

BU Spark! began in 2017 and is housed in the Boston University Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences. While public policy is one arena the program exposes students to, many Spark! projects have a tech sector connection. Students have gone on to win competitions, have their work acquired by tech firms, or find employment at a Spark! client’s organization.

Spark! is always looking for new client partners who would be interested in working with a team of students. For non-profits and government entities, especially small organizations, participating in Spark! allows a client to pursue a technical or analytical project without having to have that in-house capacity.

“It’s been a privilege to take part in this initiative, and I would encourage those in the public sector who have a great idea for a data-driven project to consider participating in the program. The Spark! team is dedicated, driven, and incredibly supportive of students looking to gain applied data science and computer science skills with a wide range of clients. I’m glad to be part of it, and I’d be interested to talk with any organizations considering taking on a project through Spark!”

Tom Hopper can be reached at or at (857) 317-8561.

For more information, contact MHP Communications Manager Lisa Braxton at or at (857) 301-1526.