2018 Grant Award: Olivia Richards

This summer, I had the unique opportunity to participate in the Computing Research Association’s Distributed Research Experience for Undergraduates program. I was mentored by Dr. Julie Kientz at the University of Washington. I studied in the department of Human Centered Design and Engineering, and spent my summer as part of the Computing for Healthy Living and Learning lab. It was an incredibly formative, exciting, and engaging experience. I’m incredibly thankful for support from the Penn State Presidential Leadership Academy for helping to make this experience possible.

Somehow, we managed to choose a project that wonderfully intersects with several of my interests including emerging technologies, children and families. This project opened my eyes to the technological differences between American families. We studied parents’ perspectives of the burdens and benefits of digital home assistants, such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home. I helped conduct semi-structured initial and final interviews with 10 low-to-middle-income families and introduced digital voice assistants into their homes. I scraped and analyzed relevant product reviews in a content analysis to understand perspectives of parent users. In future publication, we will share findings and design opportunities for voice assistants to support families.

As part of KidsTeam UW, I spent one week this summer, co-designing and evaluating digital technologies with children, who are expert children and technology designers. That week provided me with insight into the multitude of ways that children can be empowered to design technology. It was very interesting to me that, similar to adults, children desire choices in the technology that supports their everyday life. All of their design decisions had an aspect of control. This need for choice tells me that designers for children’s technology need to empower them to make good choices.

By collaborating with three fantastic faculty members, Julie Kientz, Alexis Hiniker and Jason Yip, at one of the top human-computer interaction programs in the country, I feel that I better positioned myself for admission into their Ph.D. program next year, as well as other competitive programs. Additionally, by being temporary located in the unique city of Seattle, I had coffee chats with a UX designer at Starbucks and a user researcher at Amazon. I helped researchers from Mozilla as part of one of their research studies and developed relationships at Microsoft that landed a referral. I believe this summer was incredibly productive. And the supportive network that I’ve developed here leaves me confident that I’ll be happy with whatever path I decide to choose next year, whether it’s academia for a Ph.D. or industry to do design research.

This opportunity for engagement with top researchers wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the PLA and my mentors, as well as the critical thinking skills that I have honed as part of the academy. The Academy has truly furthered the development of the skills necessary for me to network, maintain relationships with faculty and have multi-dimensional conversations regarding pressing problems facing the research community. I truly thank the PLA Advisory Board for their continued support of my academic endeavours.