Featured Defense


Below is a selection of recent ATLAS PhD dissertations. For a list of all ATLAS PhD dissertations, with links to the full documents, click here.

cover katie gach dissertationKatie Gach—How To Delete the Dead: Honoring Affective Connections To Post-mortem Data (2021)

Advisory Committee: Brubaker, Jed R; Echchaibi, Nabil; Moncur, Wendy: Fiesler, Casey; Devendorf, Laura

When a person with a Facebook account dies, two options exist for reflecting that death within the social media platform: memorialization or deletion. Through almost 150 hours of interviews with 76 participants over five years, the four studies in this dissertation describe discoveries, analyses, and insights of people’s experiences with Facebook’s post-mortem account options. Three studies involved people who had gone through processes of post-mortem profile management on Facebook. The findings of these studies reveal expectation gaps that could be addressed through an intentionally friction-filled setup process for post-mortem account management. The fourth study walked through the post-mortem management process alongside people who had recently lost a loved one, and discovered the rich details of difficulties rooted in computational misunderstandings of core elements of human relationships (norms, expectations, and trust). Following these empirical findings, I discuss what might be done to bring our online behavior closer to our deepest relational needs during times of grief. In a meta-analysis, I present the concept of identity as an “affective constellation”, to supplement what is typically understood as a “user” for HCI during sensitive life experiences. This work concludes by suggesting a path forward for post-mortem data management that involves collaboration with the growing movement of community death care workers. Download PDF file

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Chris Bopp dissertation coverChris Bopp—Doing “Good” with Data? Understanding and Working Around Data Doubles in Human Services Organizations (2020)

Advisory Committee: Amy Voida, Lehn Benjamin, Geoffrey Bowker, Leysia Palen, Danielle Varda

Human services represent the largest portion (73%) of US federal spending. Under the federalist system, decision making authority is shared by the federal, state, and local governments thereby decentralizing responsibility for the delivery of social services across multiple levels of government and implementing nonprofit organizations. This research illustrates that in order to support the kinds of innovative uses of big data that many desire in the social sector, more diverse stakeholders need to be involved in the design and implementation of data systems so that they may better meet the needs of clients, staff, and the community. Together, this empirical work contributes a detailed analysis of data work across multi-level computer supported cooperative work in the human services domain. 

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Lila Finch dissertation coverLila Finch—Luminous Science: an Investigation of Transdisciplinary Education (2020)

Advisory Committee: Ben Shapiro, Susan Jurow, Joe Polman, Kylie Peppler, Katie Van Horne

I want to create transdisciplinary learning environments that bring together the arts, sciences, and computing in school-based education. My research is about figuring out how to improve learning in these disciplines by providing avenues for breaking down the siloed nature of disciplinary classrooms and changing practices that currently limit access to these disciplines for people with non-normative identities and practices. Transdisciplinary maker-based, technology-supported, representational practices could expand the normative sensemaking practices that artificially separate these disciplines.  

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David Oonk dissertation coverDavid Oonk—Assessing the Present and Future of Fracking Governance: Science, Expertise, and Policy of Fracking in Colorado’s Denver Julesburg Basin (2020)

Advisory Committee: Max Boykoff, Morgan Bazilian, Michaele Ferguson, Steve Vanderheiden, Shelly Miller

The shale oil and gas boom in the United States driven by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, or ‘fracking’ has brought long term question over fracking’s role in the energy transition to a near-zero-carbon future, and short term questions over its public and environmental impacts. This research examines both the long-term and short term questions of fracking and the role that science and expertise plays in decision-making in Colorado.  Together this thesis addresses the long and short term questions of fracking and the challenges to policy-makers and scientists. There are many ways in which experts interact in collaborative and uncontested ways around fracking science and boundary work. 

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Clement Zheng dissertation coverClement Zheng—Everyday Materials for Physical Interactive Systems (2020)

Advisory Committee: Ellen Yi-Luen Do, Mark D Gross, Laura Devendorf, Daniel Leithinger, Lining Yao

We live in a built environment shaped by a wide range of materials engineered for dierent purposes. Computers have permeated many aspects of this built environment, from living spaces to clothing. This ubiquitous computing context requires a new way of looking at the materiality of interactive systems. I reflect on the opportunities and challenges that everyday materials offer for building physical interactive systems, and propose a system for organizing the divergent facets that designers engage with during material-centered design.    

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Donna Auguste dissertation coverDonna Auguste—A Data Science Approach to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Identity Research for African American Communities (2019)

Advisory Committee: Shelly L. Miller, Joseph L. Polman, Tamara Clegg, Daria Kotys-Schwartz, Kira Hall

Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals, educators, and researchers seek to broaden participation in STEM fields by underrepresented groups, including African Americans. A deeper understanding of the bond between STEM learning and STEM identities can help broaden participation in STEM fields. One line of inquiry developed and deployed a toolkit to analyze social media content for STEM identities in African American STEM communities of practice. In another line of inquiry, families whose children had asthma used data science to analyze data from residential indoor air quality sensors to identify asthma triggers. 

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Brittany Kos dissertation coverBrittany Kos—An Autoethnography of T9Hacks: “Designing a Welcoming Hackathon for Women and Non-Binary Students to Learn and Explore Computing” (2019)

Advisory Committee: Lecia Barker, Aileen Pierce, Susan Jurow, Catherine Ashcroft, Matthew Berland

This dissertation explores the design of inclusive and equitable collegiate hackathons. Hackathons are events where people gather together to build projects or solve problems. Collegiate hackathons can create an environment where marginalized students feel disinterested in attending or unwelcome. A disproportionate number of white and Asian men attend these events compared with women, non-binary students, and non-Asian students of color.  The dissertation studies the social climate of hackathons and how it affects participants, particularly women and non-binary students. Why do (or do not) participants attend hackathons, what motivates them to attend, and what engages them? 

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Simone Hyater-Adams dissertation coverSimone Hyater-Adams—Performances of Black Physics Identity: An exploration of the connections between identity, race, physics, and performance art (2019)

Advisory Committee: Noah Finkelstein, Kathleen Hinko

Black folks are underrepresented in physics, and more broadly in STEM. This work explores identity for Black physicists, and postulates that bridging science and art can address challenges in physics learning. The Critical Physics Identity (CPI) framework is a tool to understand structural and systemic factors that impact how folks identify with physics. Applying the CPI framework to analyze Black physicists' narratives highlights institutional and structural issues that mold their physics identities. Performance art can address these issues, which informs the design and implementation of an informal physics program designed to support student identity, that incorporates the performing arts. Download PDF file

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Abigale Stangl dissertation coverAbigale Stangl—Tactile Media Consumption and Production for and By People who are Blind and Visually Impaired: A Design Research Investigation (2019)

Advisory Committee: Tom Yeh, Bridget Dalton, Shaun Kane, Clayton Lewis, Ben Shapiro, Ting Siu

This work studies how blind or visually impaired (BVI) people access, consume, design and produce with tactile media. Three interventionist studies—a 3D printed design probe, a design ethnography and a series of tactile art and graphics symposia—investigate how blind and visually impaired people make, create, design and teach with tactile media. It identifies design strategies to address factors that limit BVI people’s tactile media consumption, creation, and instruction. The dissertation contributes insights about the lived experiences and practices of people who use, create, and teach with tactile media. 

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HyunJoo Oh dissertation coverHyunJoo Oh—Computational Design Tools and Techniques for Paper Mechatronics (2018)

Advisory Committee: Mark D Gross, Michael Eisenberg, Sherry Hsi, Leah Buechley, Laura Devendorf

Paper Mechatronics is a new design medium for learning by making that integrates traditional papercrafting with mechanical, electrical, and computational components, adding to the creative possibilities of traditional papercrafting. This dissertation presents computational design tools and prototyping techniques to enable novices to build their own Paper Mechatronics, and discusses lessons learned from working with children, educators, and fellow researchers.This work establishes a foundation for Paper Mechatronics as a medium to enable creative learning and open a discourse on tools and techniques to broaden access to exploratory construction, thus promoting creativity.   

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Calvin Pohawpatchoko dissertation coverCalvin Pohawpatchoko Jr.—Cultural Constructionism: An Indigenous Computing Experience (2018)

Advisory Committee: Clayton H. Lewis, Sarah Hug, Mark Gross, Joseph Polman, Robert Whitman

This research investigates why Native Americans are underrepresented in computing, and how representation might be increased. The approach taken is to open a cultural space in learning theory, as applied to computing education. It explores how cultural history shapes identity and attitudes about education, as well as outlook on life more generally. Awareness of this cultural influence is badly needed in education and in computing education. Computing is a worldwide phenomenon adopted by many countries and cultures. However, educational approaches are more Westernized and generalized towards Western culture. To the contrary, this research finds production and education in computing to be a cultural activity influenced by its history. When understood in context, this research shows integrating one’s culture is an effective means to increase participation in computing.  

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Jeffrey Harriman dissertationJeffrey Wood Harriman, Jr.—The Development and Use of Scaffolded Design Tools for Interactive Music (2016) 

Advisory Committee: Michael Theodore, Mark D Gross, Michael Eisenberg, Miller Puckette, Tom Yeh

In music and the arts, electronic and computational technologies have created new ways of working, enabling new forms of creative expression and new experiences. New media artists and experimental musicians are exploring the possibilities enabled by computational, interactive and robotic technologies, and digital fabrication tools to enable new forms of expression and to create new experiences for audiences. The artists and musicians who employ these technologies at the bleeding edge create new techniques, hardware and software. New mediums and approaches like augmented reality, 3D printing, interactive and kinetic sculpture, new interfaces for musical expression, and robotic musical instruments are nascent compared to the violin or oil paints. These mediums represent new opportunities that require new tools and approaches to realize their potential. This dissertation is about creating and using such design tools for interactive music.  

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Katherine Goodman—The Transformative Experience in Engineering Education (2015)

Advisory Committee: John K Bennett, Jean Hertzberg, Tim Curran

This research evaluates the usefulness of transformative experience in engineering education. With  transformative experiences, students 1) apply ideas from coursework to everyday experiences without prompting (motivated use); 2) see everyday situations through the lens of course content (expanded perception); and 3) value course content in new ways because it enriches everyday affective experience (affective value). In a three part study, we examine how engineering educators can promote student progress toward transformative experiences and reliably measure that progress. 


Kevin Moloney—Future of Story: Transmedia Journalism and National Geographic’s Future of Food Project (2015)

Advisory Committee: Mark Winokur, Len Ackland, John K Bennett, Jill Dupré, Marie-Laure Ryan

This dissertation describes the techniques of transmedia storytelling and examines them in the context of journalism. Its principle case study explores the National Geographic Society’s (NGS) Future of Food project as an example of transmedia journalism. Having many proprietary media channels, the NGS is uniquely positioned to produce expansive stories on complex issues. The case study is contextualized through the history of the organization and staff interviews about structural and philosophical changes there. The project is qualitatively analyzed for its use of media form, media channel and story expansion. The structure of the network of stories is quantitatively analyzed through social network analysis. This study contributes the first detailed network analysis of a transmedia storyworld, an examination of an early instance of transmedia journalism and initial best practices for the scalable production of it. These methods are framed through a novel use of Multimodality to explain the agency of media as nonhuman actors in Actor-Network Theory. 


Leslie Dodson—A Foggy Desert: Equitable Information Flow For A Fogwater System In Southwest Morocco (2014)

Advisory Committee: John K Bennett, Revi Sterling

This dissertation describes the design, implementation and evaluation of a gender inclusive information system linking rural women in Agni Hiya, Morocco and water project managers from the Association Dar Si-Hmad. This research was motivated by an interest in exploring the linkages between information and communication technologies (ICT), climate change, natural resource management and women’s participation in community development in the drought-ridden Aït Baamrane region of southwest Morocco. The research investigates the potential for mobile phones to help address communication constraints that rural Berber women face, including culture, religion, and lack of digital literacy. These issues are relevant to the study and design of a gender inclusive information system (the “Fog Phone”) intended to help manage a fog water distribution system that will deliver water from the Anti-Atlas Mountains to Berber villages.