PhD Students

PhD Students

As of Fall 2023, here are some of our current and former PhD students who gave us permission to highlight them here!

Jasmine McKenzie (advisor: Gilbert)
My current research interests include cultivating a culture of health and improving health equity to effect change in marginalized and underrepresented communities using technology. Specifically, I’m studying technological health literacy interventions for the Black community backed by public health and health education theories and frameworks.

Qing Li (advisor: Chu)
I am interested in issues about AI literacy and human-AI interaction, increasing public interest in and use of AI demands improved resources for aiding in public understanding of AI. I want to explore how humans interact and learn as a way of informing the design of public AI interventions for everyday activities.
Abhishek Kulkarni (advisor: Chu)
My research revolves around interest-based learning, which is a paradigm of personalized learning. Interest-based learning leverages a learner’s interests to create relevance with traditional learning content, seeking a positive impact on factors such as motivation, self-efficacy, and learning outcomes. I study ways of effectively integrating interest-based learning in online learning environments.

Andrew Maxim (advisor: Lok)
My research is focused on using the nonlexical aspects of voice (i.e., pitch, rhythm, energy, speech rate) to alter computer-generated voices to improve the persuasiveness and outcomes of healthcare related virtual human interventions.

Rashi Ghosh (advisor: Lok)
My work is in developing AI-driven tailored virtual human interactions in order to address health disparities, particularly with marginalized groups. Specifically, I hope to use machine learning to assist in tailoring VH health-related interventions for LGBTQ+ individuals. An important part of my working is actually working with the LGBTQ+ community in order to guide the implementation.
Patriel Stapleton (advisor: Blanchard)
My work investigates how game-based learning can be leveraged to teach complex topics such as science to middle-schooler students. This includes how simulation and AI/ML can be used to create an immersive educational environment that allows students to learn about multiple perspectives as well as how these technologies may adapt to the learner.
Heting Wang (advisor: Ruiz)
My research interests have always centered on understanding human negative emotions using multi-modalities, and designing natural user interfaces that empathize with users to better fulfill human needs and improve user experience.
Xiaoyi Tian (advisor: Boyer)
My research focuses on Education Technologies and Human-Computer Interaction. I design learning environments that fosters AI learning and provides engaging learning experiences. I am also interested in understanding the behavioral patterns when youth creating conversational AI artifacts collaboratively, and explore the ways we can support their learning and collaboration.

Brett Benda (advisor: Ragan)
My work focuses on human use, detection, and perception of interaction techniques in VR. I also work on designing and evaluating interfaces for AR applications, and applying them towards training cases.

Christopher You (advisor: Lok)
I am investigating the usage of virtual humans to facilitate interactions with users to promote healthier living. Particularly, I want to use culturally tailored virtual humans to help minority cultures take control of their own health and feel equipped to make decisions best for them.
Jeremy Block (advisor: Ragan)
Across cultures and generations, storytelling has been a powerful tool for communicating important lessons and building a shared understanding. That’s why I’m exploring the potential of automatic narrative generation to help teams establish common ground in complex, data-driven situations. By leveraging analytic provenance data as the basis for collaborative work summarization, we can create compelling stories that make information more accessible and easier to understand. My goal is to facilitate communication and understanding among individuals, team members, and managers; helping them work together more effectively and efficiently.
Jacob Stuart (advisor: Lok)
My research has revolved around the development of immersive healthcare simulations. This includes the use of AR, VR, and virtual humans. Currently, I am working on using AR to create time-based symptoms for training healthcare students.
Pedro Guillermo (advisor: Lok)
I work on designing, evaluating, and studying culturally relevant embodied conversational agents (ECAs) for STEM (i.e., Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) students’ Mental Wellness Support. My interests regard ECAs’ interaction adaptability concerning users’ trust and attraction/repulsion to similar/different characteristics such as spoken accent, ethnicity, and gender.
Sarah Brown (advisor: Chu)
My research area is in applied interactive digital narratives, i.e. interactive stories for health and education. An example would be my dissertation, which is on interactive narrative authoring systems to support the mental health of college students by allowing them to externalize their personal narratives.
Cheryl Resch (advisor: Gardner-McCune)
What is the effectiveness of adding cybersecurity topics, specifically secure coding, to core CS courses? Does this produce graduates who understand the importance of secure coding? Do they write secure code?
Nanjie (Jimmy) Rao (advisor: Chu)
My research is regarding adaptive teacher support interface for contextualization, which involves context aware visualization on students’ experience. I have experience about embodied storytelling and recommendation system based on life events as well.

Julia Woodward (advisor: Ruiz)
My main research area is in the field of child-computer interaction. Children are increasingly interacting with technology; However, these devices are not designed with children in mind. My research goals have been to design better interfaces for children, and understand how children think about and use technology.


Shaghayegh (Shae) Esmaeili (advisor: Ragan)
In my research projects, the focus is on human-centered research of design and evaluation of applications and techniques that support effective interaction and understanding of data, information, and virtual environments.
Specifically for my thesis, I am working on investigating the human perception of visual motion for quantitative data encoding and its applications in standard visualization contexts and cases beyond traditional use cases, such as Dashboards, Augmented Reality, Large Displays, etc.

Armisha Roberts (advisor: McMullen)
My research focuses on understanding how users detect change within a 3D auditory environment. The application area for this research is auditory guidance for first responders to physical targets. The majority of perceptual 3D audio research focuses on localizing stationary sounds. This research advances knowledge on moving 3D sound perception, especially in ambulatory listening scenarios.
Joseph Isaac (advisor: Gilbert)
My dissertation work aims to investigate pedagogies to increase the interest and persistence of Black middle and high school boys in computer science in the United States. My research will identify factors behind retention rates of Black male adolescents in computer science through existing literature. It will also examine strategies for Black male adolescents participating in computer science and conduct case studies centered on understanding strategies and pedagogies for increasing the participation of Black male adolescents in computer science.
Amanpreet Kapoor (advisor: Gardner-McCune)
My research interests include Computing Education, Informal Learning Environments, and Identity Formation. Currently, my work focuses on understanding computing students’ professional identity formation in formal, non-formal, and informal learning spaces. This research enables me to develop tools, curricula, and instructional strategies that foster students’ formation of computing identities and scaffold students’ learning of computing equitably. The broader goal of my research is to improve computing students’ employability by (1) reducing the gap between industry and academia; (2) fostering the development of computing students’ agency for participation in self-directed learning; and (3) understanding computing students’ information-seeking behaviors.

Yerika Jimenez (advisor: Gardner-McCune)
My research focus on understanding how upper elementary are learning how to debug in block-based programming environment. Mainly focusing on elementary students debugging behaviors, challenges, debugging skills, and ability to articulate their debugging process.

Alaina Smith (advisor: Gilbert)
I am interested in creating health education technologies to examine and evaluate the effectiveness of such technologies in black communities.
Emma Drobina (advisor: Gilbert)
My research focuses on explainable machine learning, particularly ensuring that machine explanations are robust and applicable to diverse application areas.
Keith McNamara (advisor: Gilbert)
I am exploring how to provide effective explainable AI systems. I am evaluating the use of plain language to simplify explanations of ML model decisions to address the knowledge and interaction discrepancies between expert and non-expert users.

Amanda Griffith (advisor: Boyer)
My research focuses on enhancing AI support for human creative expression by examining collaborative dialogue dynamics, evaluating AI’s effectiveness in promoting creativity, and identifying potential barriers to AI-assisted creative endeavors. Using my qualifying exam as a foundation, I plan to investigate the development of AI-based support systems further and analyze their impact on human creative expression in my dissertation work.

Simone Smarr (advisor: Gilbert)
My specific research interests include Computer Science Education at all levels, educational technology and culturally relevant computing with an emphasis on user centered design. I am interested in the development of CS Education curriculum and Ed Tech tools, as well as how the experience with CS education can be enhanced for underrepresented groups.
Amal Hashky (advisor: Ragan)
My current area of interest lies in Human-centered AI. Specifically, my recent research revolves around decision-making systems and how including different representations components, such as decision history and model descriptions, can impact users’ perceptions of AI systems. Moreover, I am also investigating the reverse direction: how users’ perceptions of AI can influence their interactions with AI systems.

Xuanpu Zhang (advisor: Ruiz)
Technology that enhances mental health and human wellness.