HCDE students travel to premier conferences in 2017

Friday, December 29, 2017

The department of Human Centered Design & Engineering strives to enrich the education and professionalization of our students by supporting travel to conferences and workshops.

HCDE students Kristin Dew (PhD), Tsewone Melaku (BS), Dawn Sakaguchi-Tang (PhD), and Himanshu Zade (PhD) traveled to different premier conferences in 2017, and they share their experiences here.

Departmental support for student travel funding is in part thanks to donations made to the Human Centered Design & Engineering Fund for Excellence. Please consider making a gift today!

Just before autumn quarter started, I went to the Society for the Social Studies of Science conference in Boston, the main science and technology studies conference for North American researchers. My presentation was on research methods in craft scholarship, specifically the challenges and opportunities of doing hands-on fieldwork alongside craft practitioners, and how that shapes ethnographic modes of knowledge production. It was my second time going to present work in progress in a panel discussion, and the audience was very generous with their questions and feedback. I really enjoyed the conversations and input from craft scholars from the social sciences and humanities, and left with a renewed sense of connection to craft scholarship, more questions for my own work and methods, and a new group of colleagues to share ideas with.

Regarding the conference more broadly, the opening keynotes on security and belonging inspired me with their explicit political and activist bent, particularly Kim Tallbear's remarks on the persistent and ongoing erasure of Native Americans from public STS scholarship. At the reception afterwards I managed to embarrass myself a bit by asking Steve Woolgar his name mid-conversation, but I managed to avoid doing the same to Lucy Suchman. Despite being a bit starstruck, chatting with them about my work and learning about how the 4S community has changed over the years was the highlight of my trip.

Tsewone at Afrotech conferenceAfrotech was truly life changing! I had the opportunity to listen to amazing presentations from numerous Black managers and executives from top tech companies. They presented about their work, how they navigate the tech world as Black people, and words of advice on how we can be our best selves, professionally and personally. There were three tracks for attendees - ‘Engineering, Design & Data’, ‘Entrepreneurship’, and ‘Marketing & Hustle’. Also, we were required to attend collegiate student workshops and talks that focused on professionalism, interviewing, and the various academic paths we can take to achieve our professional goals.

It was only the second year of the conference and there were attendees from all over the world sharing their experiences. There was also a mini-career fair happening throughout the conference where anyone could network and learn from employees and managers at companies like Google, Airbnb, and Johnson & Johnson. I was also able to attend parts of the startup pitch competition that Blavity, the company that planned the Afrotech conference, hosted. I had never seen a startup competition before so it was quite inspiring and humbling to see people pitching their brilliant ideas to a panel of potential investors. I was surrounded by excellence that supported my success so fully, without even knowing what it was that I wanted to do.

Afrotech conferenceBefore the conference, I had very little idea how I would be able to navigate the professional world once leaving UW but now, I feel as though I’m not as alone and there are people in tech spaces who understand my experiences and will help me through the challenges I face. It was an amazing opportunity to share this experience with so many other likeminded, motivated individuals who are unapologetic and propelled to create the change they wish to see in the world instead of waiting for someone else to do it.

IAGG conferenceThis past summer, I attended the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (IAGG) conference in San Francisco. IAGG is an international conference that promotes gerontological research and training. This past year there were 6,000 attendees from 75 different countries. The theme of the conference was, “Global Aging and Health: Bridging Science, Policy and Practice.” It showcased research that aimed to improve the quality of life for older adults.

I chose to go this conference because of my interest in ways design can support and improve the lives of older adults. I was especially excited to attend because there was an entire day dedicated to technology and aging research.  They featured innovations in aging research, a start-up alley for entrepreneurs to connect with researchers, and even had a minute madness session where new investigators could present their research. I enjoyed all the talks but, the opening and closing keynotes were my favorites. The opening keynote was given by Joseph Coughlin the Founder and Director of the AgeLab at MIT. In addition to his energetic and entertaining presentation style, he talked about things that are rising in popularity in the aging space like, robotics and autonomous vehicles. He offered design considerations for these types technologies such as, building trust between user and the technology, having empathy when designing things and ensuring equity distribution of these technologies. A memorable quote from this presentation that I noted was, “we are designing a lifestyle.” This quote reminded me of the work we do in HCDE when designing for people, we aim to gain a holistic perspective of their needs and wants.

The closing keynote was given by Christine Cassel who is the Planning Dean of Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine. She was one of the experts chosen by President Obama to be on the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). This council advised the President on matters of science, technology, innovation and policy. I enjoyed her talk because she called attention to opportunities that support aging such as, considering that as people age they may pursue a 3rd or 4th career. She also mentioned the need for researchers to recognize the older adult population as heterogeneous, a good reminder.

Throughout the day there were great talks, such asa talk by June Fisher MD, the Chief Elder Officer of Aging 2.0. In her talk, she had a slide called the “A’s of Aging” which I found interesting (picture below). She also talked about the need for effective technologies to be on the market for older adults quicker. She encouraged that more start-ups to pursue opportunities in aging. This conference made me excited to be doing research in the field of aging. I was excited to see the innovations that are happening and the desire for these innovations from the aging community. It was a great conference, I learned a lot.

Himanshu with other workshop participantsThe Collective Intelligence for Democracy 2017 workshop hosted 10 projects with 70 participants from across the globe with wide sphere of research interests. I was selected to collaborate on the GaupSurvey project, which involved designing a map-based survey with smart interactions to gather public perceptions of neighborhoods. The workshop was hosted in the MediaLab prado which was also co-hosted 2 other conference events - Consul and Democratic cities.

Hackathons usually do not allow enough time to reflect on your technology contribution, while research workshops often do not involve any building of new technology. With this background, the workshop was a wonderful venue to foster both building a new technology and reflect onto it through community feedback over a period of 2 weeks. It was also an interesting and resourceful place to get access to a wide variety of skills to your own benefit. Individuals helping each other out to advance a project was a very common sight.

One of the most important learnings from the workshop was to know about the several local initiatives of the community in Madrid to initiate and support several democratic initiatives including community run small scale parks, alternate use of unoccupied empty residences to house the homeless, make spaces that benefit from taxpayers’ money (partially) accessible to public interest activities etc. The workshop introduced us to several such initiatives and connected us to the community efforts and the problems they face. This was immensely beneficial to realise the limitations, scope and opportunities for collaborative strategies (with and without technology) in day-to-day lives. In future, I will be delighted to go back to the venue with one of my projects so I can lead and benefit from the initiative.