Omar Asensio Talks About His Work, Visiting Fellowship at Harvard Business School, and More

a photo of Omar Asensio

Omar Asensio, associate professor and director of the Data Science and Policy Lab at Georgia Tech, was awarded a Business in Global Society Visiting Fellowship by the Harvard Business School.

Associate Professor Omar Asensio in the School of Public Policy was awarded a Business in Global Society (BiGS) Visiting Fellowship at Harvard Business School, where he was interviewed about his research, his plans for the fellowship, and other topics. Asensio leads the Data Science and Policy Lab at Georgia Tech.

What’s your area of research and what led you to it?
As a climate scholar, I focus on the intersection of technology and public policy. I lead the Data Science & PolicyLab at Georgia Tech, where we use big data and field experiments to address challenges in energy, transportation, and human mobility. In recent years, we’ve leveraged generative AI and large language models (LLMs) to overcome research barriers in vehicle electrification and infrastructure. By putting humans in–the-loop during training and testing, our machine learning models have become highly accurate and scalable across languages and geographies. This work has led us to identify investment and operational barriers to electric vehicle charging in remote areas and urban centers, impacting sustainable business and policymaking on critical areas for innovation. My climate AI research on electrification and decarbonization is supported by Microsoft and the National Science Foundation.

Why is your area of research important for society?
I am fortunate to be one of 10 US scholars who contributed to the zero emission vehicles (ZEV) policy guidance for COP 26 and the Glasgow Climate Pact. We know that accelerating the switch from internal combustion to electric cars and trucks reduces emissions. However, we often forget about the enormous air quality and human health co-benefits associated with reduced air pollution, estimated to be worth hundreds of billions in value according to National Academies consensus reports.

Where are you from?
I grew up in Los Angeles, where I had the opportunity to learn from and connect with people and cultures from around the world. I speak Spanish and basic Greek. My family’s journey brought us to the US as political émigrés from Nicaragua following the Sandinista revolution.

What is something you like to do outside of your academic work?
Outside of my academic work, I’m a proud soccer dad. You’ll find me on the pitch, cheering on the Boston Bolts this season, as my son Milan has been invited to play for them, and I couldn't be more excited. I also enjoy exploring Boston by hopping on a water taxi and checking out the fish markets in Seaport.

What’s your favorite book, movie, or piece of art?
The Netflix algorithm says my favorite movie is La La Land. The algorithm thinks it knows me well because it keeps suggesting comedic tear-jerkers, but lately I’ve been trying to nudge it towards action films.

What will you be doing as a BiGS Fellow?
The federal government plans to invest $7.5 billion in a national network of EV charging points. This will bring a wealth of business and managerial decisions on electric mobility, including creative solutions for pricing externalities, smart grid integration, and understanding consumer behavior. Motivated by these policy drivers, my project explores how AI can be used to ensure a more equitable distribution of electric vehicle infrastructure and will evaluate policy effectiveness with massively distributed data.

What sort of impact would you like to have as a BiGS Fellow?
I'm thrilled to collaborate with the BiGS fellows and HBS on new products. I also welcome opportunities for broader scientific collaborations, especially cross-disciplinary ones that push the boundaries of large-scale distributed climate data and social science.

A version of this story first appeared in the Harvard Business School newsroom.

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Stephanie N. Kadel
Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts