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Angela Smith

PhD Candidate in Technology and Social Behavior

Angela Smith

I am drawn to research that can give a voice to and have an impact on the often voiceless and underserved.”

Angela Smith is a PhD candidate in Technology and Social Behavior, a joint program in Computer Science and Communication. Her research centers on finding ways to employ design as a catalyst to combat information poverty and socially responsible technology experiences. Angela works in the People, Information, and Technology Changing Health (PITCH) Lab and is a member of the interdisciplinary Design Cluster. Recently, a paper she co-authored titled Critical Race Theory for HCI received a Best Paper Award from ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, the premier international conference of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). 

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?

Much of my research focuses on equitable design. I leverage community-based and participatory design research methods to understand the information-seeking behavior of youth experiencing homelessness and design sociotechnical interventions to better support their information practices. 

What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?

One of the most recent twists and turns of my academic career erupted due to the most recent racial riots and the racial tension across the United States in public, professional, and academic spaces. I, along with two co-authors, collaborated on a paper, Critical Race Theory for HCI. The paper was accepted to the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human-Computer Interaction and received Best Paper, an award reserved for the top one percent of papers accepted. However, the paper and topic only gained traction after the public murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery. My co-authors and I have since been invited to present our work at various universities and tech companies.

Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.

Growing up, I always wanted to be the person to cure cancer and to make an impact with my work. Although medical school wasn’t in my past nor present, research has allowed me to go into the real world, interact with various persons, and develop solutions for real-world problems. Because of that desire and my position as an African American woman in technology, I am drawn to research that can give a voice to and have an impact on the often voiceless and underserved.

What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?

In my research with youth experiencing homelessness, it is rewarding to hear the youth respond to my work. Often, they are simply excited that someone takes them seriously and cares enough about their experiences to want to help. Simultaneously, some of the challenges are figuring out the tools and resources that are best for them, given their limited access to technology and literacy, and the lengthy timeline of community-based research. 

Why Northwestern?

Northwestern is known for its research, interdisciplinary nature, and commitment to service, and it has given me the chance to broaden my knowledge base and skills. Here, I have had unique experiences, such as the Design Research Cluster, and I have been able to provide insight into the direction of the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) discipline on campus. 

How do you unwind after a long day?

Currently, I unwind with my newborn, so I am sure everyone can imagine how relaxing that is! Generally, I enjoy a good book, a random competition show on Netflix, and The Sims, but more recently, a nap. 

What books are on your bedside table?

The Wonder Weeks by Frans X. Plooij and Hetty van de Rijt; Captivating Technology: Race, Carceral Technoscienceand Liberatory Imagination in Everyday Life edited by Ruha Benjamin, How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin; Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need by Sasha Costanza-Chock; She Begat This: 20 Years of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Joan Morgan. 

What inspires you?

My family. I also feel inspired by joining a small, but growing percentage of African Americans who have earned their doctorate, especially in a computer science-related field. I want to show others who look like me that these things are attainable.

Published: November 24, 2020


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