Bio

My expertise is social research methods and social theory, my training is in sociology, and I apply this expertise and training to the study of information and communication technologies (ICT) and their context of development, implementation and use. I am an elected leader in both of my home academic communities, the American Sociological Association and the International Association for Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management. My international reputation is visible in the following:  organizing and leading two large and two small international workshops and conferences; $3.7 million in external funding that has resulted in 12 completed MS and PhD theses; 40 journals articles, 60 peer-reviewed conference proceedings, and 12 book chapters.  I have been an invited speaker at 31 conferences or events and presented at 73 conferences. My teaching is showcased in the 12 different courses I have led for my College at the undergraduate, Honors and graduate levels. I have served as chair of 16 graduate student committees, 6 master’s theses and 10 Ph.D. dissertations. Seven of these ten Ph.D. students have already graduated and gone on to take jobs in the academe or industry. I have also served on 50 graduate student committees.  I expect this trajectory to continue in the coming years.

The contribution of my scholarship is carried forward through detailed studies of critical social problems in today’s world, with a specific focus on the take-up, uses, and effects of information and communication technologies relative to public social issues. The results of my work have contributed directly to the policy-making bodies of the United Nations, the Obama Administration, and the largest international relief and development organizations globally. All of my recent work investigates the great potential role that social media data might play in local community resilience, crowdsourced early warning systems, and the organized response to emergencies and disasters. 

On September 14, 2015, The U.S. White House, as part of their new Smart Cities Initiative, announced the awardees for National Science Foundation’s Critical Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Systems and Processes (CRISP) program. My new research, entitled, “Resilience Analytics: A Data-Driven Approach for Enhanced Interdependent Network Resilience” was revealed as part of this announcement.  This announcement, this new funding and this line of research are all signposts along my career path that point the way to the next phase, that of studying the role of communities and their media in becoming resistant to disasters and resilient afterwards. 

I am an interdisciplinary scholar with thirteen years of experience working in an interdisciplinary environment. The College of Information Sciences and Technology is a new form of university education, which institutionalizes interdisciplinary. It operates under the belief that modern problems are large and complex, requiring an equally large and complex team of researchers to address the problem. I have been the only Sociologist working in the College since 2002 and have strongly valued the role I play as a team member and team leader within teams of heterogeneous researchers. I would bring with me to this position my experience and facility in working across disciplinary boundaries and speaking many academic languages. One aspect of my career of which I am most proud, is the strong intellectual diversity of collaborators with which I have worked. I have collaborated with Computer Scientists, Anthropologists, Space Weather Scientists, Game Designers, Petroleum, Material and Civil Engineers, Scholars of Education and Business, and IT professionals.

I am a scholar of “Public Informatics” a phrase I coined to situate my work at the intersection of people, information, and technology in a public setting. My Public Informatics scholarship focuses on problems faced by public and non-profit institutions and their work toward a public good. The institutions that concern me are those that serve our most basic needs for post-disaster and emergency aid, safety and security, science and education and telecommunications. I am most attracted to problems that are endemic to the public sphere: the lack of and management of scarce resources, sharing materials and information; and, increasingly the need to play competitively alongside private industry. Technologies play a role in both the creation of these problems and in potential solutions. 

I am most well known as a scholar of Crisis Informatics, a subset of Public Informatics. Crisis Informatics is the study of information discovery, needs, use and sharing in disaster or crisis settings. Disaster response organizations operate in conditions of extreme uncertainty. Uncertainty increases the need for information, but at the same time, research has shown that the amount of operational information flowing through an organization during a disaster can be overwhelming. Appropriate information and communication technologies could make substantial improvements in the disaster relief process and ultimately save lives. 

My work has made three contributions in this space. First, I have identified unique network structures and barriers that exist in this form of technical crisis coordination in the disaster-relief sector at various levels of participating organizations. Influencing science, 53 publications and presentations that have resulted from this work. Influencing practice, findings have been influential in creating principles and best practices for over 300 Humanitarian Information Managers worldwide through a partnership with the United Nations Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Honoring this work, the outcomes received the Outstanding Paper Award in 2013 from the Emerald Literati Network Awards for Excellence. Second, I contribute to the solution of one of the stickiest problems currently facing disaster response organizations—the organizational inability to take advantage of an abundance of citizen-produced social media data. Despite strong evidence as to the value of social media data during a crisis, there are numerous challenges to adoption of this data, including issues of reliability, verification, deception, quantity and translation of reported observations to responders.  My work makes a direct contribution to practice by enhancing the ability of crisis responders to make use of crowdsourced data with a high level of confidence. The outcomes of this work of this work have lead to 12 publications; leadership roles in the ISCRAM conference and professional organization and several invited keynote addresses in Sweden and Costa Rica. Thirdly, in partnership with the National Labs at Los Alamos and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, I have created Aurorasuarus, a citizen science project that encourages public participation in improving space weather science through interest in the aurora borealis. Most importantly, this research has led to implications for using crowdsourcing techniques for improving early warning systems in disaster response. 

My passion for impactful teaching is showcased in the breadth of courses I have led over my thirteen years at the College of IST. Through my classes I provide our students with research theories and methods as tools with which they can continue on to do their own research. Most rewarding of all, are my advising activities and my guidance of student research activities. In all, I have sat on 50 graduate student thesis committees and ten undergraduate Honors thesis committees.  I have been chair of 16 graduate student committees, six master’s theses and ten Ph.D. dissertations. I have sat on six Doctoral committees in other Colleges outside of IST and five additional Doctoral committees outside of Penn State. Significantly, I have met and taught almost every graduate student at the College of IST. I have touched their careers at a formative point, and hopefully influenced them to think and act as an interdisciplinary scholar seeking to change both science and practice as they move into their own careers. 

The primary goal of my teaching is to help students develop into life-long, life-wide, and life-deep learners who are engaged, critical thinkers. In order to achieve this goal, I adopt three basic strategies in my approach to teaching: (1) establishing relevance, (2) using innovative, hands-on learning experiences, and (3) challenging students to think critically and creatively. Over the years I have developed what I like to call the “pick it up” teaching philosophy in which the student is encouraged to ‘pick up’ a new concept, theory, method or tool and actively use it even as a novice. This act of use creates an experience for the learner which grants ownership, connection, and relevance to the user.    The evaluations conducted by my graduate students rank me as receiving the highest teaching scores (6.25-6.7 out of 7) among all tenured and tenure –track faculty in the College. I could teach a range of courses in the Department of Media and Information at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, including courses on Research Design, Qualitative and Quantitative methods, Content Analysis, Socio-technical Theories, Technologies and Policy, Globalization, and Development.  I would very much like to develop courses around Public, Community and Crisis Informatics, as I have already done at Penn State. 

The service that I have conducted for the university, college and my profession also support my interest in public institutions and the public good.  Within the College of IST, I now serve as the Director of Graduate Programs. I have served on twenty-three official committees, every committee available to an Assistant or Associate Professor within the College. The greatest growth in the service aspects of my career since tenure and promotion to associate professor are visible in the leadership positions within my professional community. In 2014 I was elected to serve as Chair (president) of the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) Section of Communication and Information Technologies. In addition, I was also elected (2014) to serve on the Executive Board for the International Community, Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM). Within the Crisis Informatics arena, this is the most prestigious and central venue and a very high honor.