Hi! I'm Ava Mandoli.

I'm a junior studying journalism, global history and data science at Northwestern University.
Previously, I've been a data reporter for Investigate Midwest, a nonprofit newsroom covering agribusiness and its impacts. I'm most passionate about storytelling that is data-driven and people-centered.
Recently, I co-founded the Data Journalism Collective to create a space for students interested in data journalism to learn from and with each other.
Right now, I'm a Student Fellow at Medill's Local News Accelerator, a program designed to spur innovation in Chicago news organizations. Born and raised in St. Louis, I'm a proud Midwesterner and I care deeply about strengthening the local news ecosystem.
I've also worked in many capacities at student publications, particularly at The Daily Northwestern. There, I started the paper's data visualization desk and served as a digital managing editor. At magazines like North By Northwestern and NUAZN, I've served as an editor, writer and photographer.I'm endlessly excited about using data to make sense of the world around us, and I love developing interactive and engaging ways to display those findings.

When I'm not reporting, writing, photographing or poking around an interesting Data is Plural dataset, you'll probably find me testing new recipes, crocheting another scarf, or training for my first half marathon in June.

A selection of my data-driven work:

Iowa skipper butterfly 'canary in coal mine': A warning sign of prairie loss consequences for farmers, wildlife alike – Investigate Midwest

  • I interviewed over a dozen conservation experts, farmers and government employees to write this story about the intertwined plight of the Iowa skipper butterfly and our country's agricultural system.

  • I analyzed data from the USDA and EPA to show the scope of prairie degradation in the midwest. Additionally, I created an interactive map in Flourish that shows the conservation status of the skipper in each state within its range.

  • Integrating my love of photography into the story, I took photos of Fults Hill Prairie (pictured above) to illustrate the rich biodiversity of this overlooked ecosystem.

GRAPHIC: More than 75% of egg-laying hens live in states with little-to-no welfare protections – Investigate Midwest

  • Farmed animal welfare legislation has long been lacking in the U.S. I combined two datasets – one on the number of egg-laying hens per state and another on what each state's battery cage regulations are – are to develop this map in Flourish. The results highlighted the states where increased battery cage legislation would make a big difference.

  • This was a quick turnaround data vis and explainer for Investigate Midwest's "Graphic of the Week."

GRAPHIC: Big farms dominate dairy industry – Investigate Midwest

  • I created this animated bar chart in Flourish to show the trend of consolidation in the U.S. dairy cow industry. This was a quick turnaround chart and research summary for Investigate Midwest's "Graphic of the Week."

Here’s how Evanston has allocated $42 million of its ARPA funding over the last two years – The Daily Northwestern

  • I founded The Daily Northwestern's Data Visualization Desk in Winter 2023. One project I helped create and edit was this Tableau dashboard depicting Evanston's American Rescue Plan Act funding allocation. The interactive dashboard allows users to explore what city services and programs received the most and least funding.

My interest in data journalism has always been informed by my photography, writing and multimedia-forward work:

Establishing The Daily Northwestern's Data Visualization Desk

In Winter 2023, I took on the challenge of starting a data visualization desk at The Daily Northwestern, my school's student-run, independent daily newspaper.
My experience at that point was a single introductory statistics class and a 5-week summer crash course in data visualization. But I had always been deeply inspired by data-driven journalism and the creative and engaging ways it can be presented. So when the opportunity presented itself to start this desk, I jumped in the deep end.
Integrating a new team into a paper with a 140+ year history was not easy. I learned from my experience as a photo editor there that oftentimes, in the hustle of a daily news cycle, multimedia elements turn into an afterthought. With photography, we could make that work most of the time by crowd-sourcing photos if necessary.But data visualization requires much more time. And I found that the pieces I admired most did not treat data as an afterthought – it was an integral part of the storytelling from the beginning. So, I spent that quarter constantly communicating with the city and campus desk editors and brainstorming how we could find data-driven angles for their coverage areas. I reached out to every writer that signed up for a story on the budget and offered them data visualization ideas that they could make themselves or co-create with me. And I recruited everyone I knew with a vauge interest in data science or visualizations to pitch original content for our desk.Training people to think of ideas that involved data from the start was the first challenge: the next was actually helping them make those ideas a reality. My priority was to make data visualization as accessible as possible to anyone who was interested, so I trained desk members in no-code tools like Flourish, Datawrapper, ArcGIS and Knight Lab tools. I created in-depth training materials to ensure the sustainability of the desk after my 10-week tenure was over.Another big part of my role was developing a data visualization style guide to ensure stylistic consistency throughout our coverage. I developed an eye for the smallest details as I edited visualizations in accordance with that guide (screenshots below).

Here are a few stories I'm proudest of making and/or guiding as an editor:

The experience of establishing this desk taught me so much about project management, teamwork, and how to create holistic stories where data and multimedia are not just an afterthought. I could not have done it without the support of assistant desk editor Zoey Soh and the rest of the managing staff. It was this quarter that made me realize I want to do work like this for the rest of my career.