The GVU Center’s Graduate Awards Program, recognizing top doctoral and master’s students at Georgia Tech in computing-centered research, includes 12 men and women who are leading groundbreaking work in computational linguistics, wearable computing, robotics, online communities, and much more. Join us in celebrating these students’ diverse approaches to and accomplishments in people-focused computing.

Photos and Editing by Joshua Preston

James D. Foley GVU Center Endowment

The Foley Scholarships and GVU Distinguished Master’s Student Award are made possible through the James D. Foley GVU Center Endowment. Funds from the endowment support the GVU Center’s research activities and allow the center to advance key research priorities in computing for people. The endowment is made possible through the generous donations of alumni, faculty, staff and friends of the GVU Center.



Kayla DesPortes

CS as a Way of Life

Kayla DesPortes’ research is designed to change student apathy of computer science into deep-rooted engagement in the subject. She seeks to change how computing is regarded, so that students can understand and experience its interdisciplinary capabilities and feel confident that they can be producers rather than just consumers of the technology. She is providing opportunities for a diversity of students to experience technology by enabling them to create with computing in ways they find personally valuable. Her work introduces a new approach called “value-driven learning," based on the idea that personal values have a lasting impact on life choices.



Tesca Fitzgerald

Robots That Can Replicate Tasks

Tesca Fitzgerald is preparing now for a future where interactive robots are a part of everyday living. Her current role in this age of AI is designing robots to adapt to unpredictable environments in a similar manner as humans. Robot-learning algorithms do not exhibit the same type of creative problem-solving abilities as human learners. Even when an unfamiliar problem is related to one that it has previously encountered, a robot learner is unable to adapt the previous solutions to address the current scenario. Fitzgerald is researching how humans reason and acquire skills in order to transfer that knowledge to robot learners.



Tom Jenkins

An Alternative Internet of Things

Tom Jenkins is using an ecological approach to develop speculative Internet of Things devices for domestic outliers. He is interested in how the Internet of Things might operate as a technical practice and a system of objects inside of cohousing communities. Cohousing is an intentional community designed to operate like a village in an urban environment. A “smart home” for cohousing provides a way to think about domestic IoT in a new way: it operates across multiple residences, but only one home. The research offers a vantage point to critique contemporary IoT practices as well as provide a venue to design and build IoT technologies from an ecological perspective.



Morgan Orangi

Enabling a Digital Identity

Morgan Orangi is designing technology solutions for community-building and empowering unique communities by integrating technology that enhances their sense of identity. Her work with Atlanta’s Proctor Creek Stewardship Council resulted in a simulation that showed how stream pollution negatively affects Atlanta residents in low-income neighborhoods along urban streams. Another project enhances communication within and outside of Native American reservations through white space-enabled technologies. One goal is to expand internet access and optimize internet use in remote Native American communities, as well as understand how Native Americans produce content.




Dar-Wei Chen

Learning by Failing

Dar-Wei Chen focuses on designing instructional materials in ways that enable students to learn in durable and generalizable ways, especially in environments where a teacher might not be available. Rapidly-improving technologies have given many people the ability to summon any facts to their devices from anywhere and at any time. Chen studies the unique pedagogical challenges this presents and how it will affect learning for the next generation of students. His dissertation examines “productive failure,” the hypothesis that students will learn more effectively when allowed to struggle and fail while problem-solving on their own before receiving canonical instruction.



Michaelanne Dye

Tearing Down Internet Borders

Michaelanne Dye’s research informs the responsible design of information-focused interventions for sustainable development. She does this by conducting work that incorporates the values of individuals at each step of the research process in order to contribute to a critical understanding of the ways users experience, appropriate, and alter information communication technologies (ICTs). She focuses on developing a holistic picture of internet access and use in Havana, Cuba, where, up until recently, only five percent of the population had online access and individuals instead developed their own community-based, information networks.



Matthew Guzdial

Making Machine Learning Creative

Matthew Guzdial seeks to discover creative solutions via machine learning (ML), what he considers as one of the most pressing problems in the field and one that has great potential for broader impact. His research focuses on automatic game generation trained on gameplay video. A video game represents a simplified version of reality with a consistent structure and an underlying physics system. Leveraging the techniques he has developed with physics-based games, people will be able to adapt or expand the ML methods to more and more complex domains such as scientific ideation and art generation.



Miranda Parker

Bridging the CS ’Privilege’ Gap

Miranda Parker explores the “intervening” variables between socioeconomic status (SES) and computer science achievement and their possible correlations. Understanding more about the relationships among these variables could lead to a better understanding of the state of equity or inequity in computer science classrooms. These intervening variables could be access to computing opportunities, perceptions of computer science, encouragement to pursue computer science, availability of toys that develop spatial reasoning skills, or a myriad of other variables that then give a student a better chance at achieving success in computer science.



Umashanthi Pavalanathan

Conveying Meaning in Digital Text

Umashanthi Pavalanathan studies factors that are shaping contemporary online writing such as the need to convey varied social meanings in online interpersonal interactions and the affordances made possible by technology-mediated channels. She investigates this interplay through a series of large-scale studies of linguistic style variation in online writing using computational techniques from machine learning, natural language processing, statistics, and theoretical constructs from sociolinguistics. Her work is broadly designed to advance an understanding of how people utilize online social platforms and shift style to achieve varied social goals.



Kantwon Rogers

Building Better Education Tools

Kantwon Rogers’ current work on interactive electronic books (eBooks) aims to increase computer science education efficacy by producing higher completion rates than MOOCs and facilitating improved learning. The eBooks are designed to educate instructors who have no prior computer science knowledge and equip them with the content and pedagogical understanding needed to teach other students. Rogers is analyzing log files of users to gain insight on how people are currently using the eBook and has made recommendations for creating different AP CS exam eBooks for novice (students) and expert (teachers) learners based on his findings.



Vedant Das Swain

Improving Mental Health

Vedant Das Swain is part of the CampusLife Project, a large-scale multi-university research effort determining if mental health and academic performance can be correlated, or even predicted, through a student’s digital footprint. He is responsible for testing the methods of acquiring the relevant type of experiential and contextual data specifically for large scale in-situ studies conducted remotely. His focus is on designing and validating methods that reliably and accurately obtain (and quantify) the markers that help identify the mental/emotional state of an individual and examining how a participant’s self-reported data translates to his or her mental state.



Anandghan Waghmare

More Personal, Intuitive Tech

Anandghan Waghmare researches and designs new techniques for computer interaction that would better connect the physical world to the digital world and augment human abilities. By designing these systems to be always available, listening and analyzing the user’s environment, they are more aware of the user’s actions, and the interactions become serendipitous. On one project called FingerSound, a ring on the thumb tracks the user’s finger while using the palm as a touch pad. It detects unistroke gestures made against the palm and input can be started virtually at any time and in any position without requiring the visual attention of the user to select each letter.


Header Graphic by Raul Perez