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CCS Professor Named Recipient of 2015 Yahoo FREP Award

D. Yvette Wohn

D. Yvette Wohn, an assistant professor in the information systems department at the College of Computing Sciences, where she runs the Social Interaction Lab, has been named a recipient of the 2015 Yahoo Faculty Research and Engagement Program (FREP) Award.

Wohn examines Human Computer Interaction (HCI) with an emphasis on understanding long-term use of technology through a lens she calls “soft sustainability.”

“While sustainability research in HCI has emerged from interest in the hardware aspects of environmentally-friendly technology, my focus is on the human or social component of sustainability,” explains Wohn. “I try to understand how people use social systems such as social media, games, or mobile apps, what the social and psychological effects of using this technology are, and design new technologies to improve people's well-being.”

One of the many industry-academia programs powered by major technology companies, Yahoo’s FREP is an academic outreach initiative designed to produce the highest quality scientific collaborations and outcomes by engaging with faculty and students conducting research in areas of mutual interest. FREP awards hundreds of thousands of dollars in unrestricted gifts to support new, exciting Internet research studies and experiments between academics across the globe and their Yahoo research scientist counterparts.

Wohn got involved with FREP after presenting at a conference last year, where she met a Yahoo researcher.

“He came and talked to me after my presentation, and we had mutual research interests,” she recalls. “We met again at a conference earlier this year, which got the ball rolling on the proposal that I ultimately submitted. Hooray for networking!”

Much of the current HCI research investigates technology adoption and short-term usage, but understanding why people continue to interact with technology over a long period of time involves different socio-psychological mechanisms. Wohn says this has serious implications when designing a system intended for long-term use.

“My work is grounded in theory and fundamentally about understanding the relationship between humans and technology, so conducting research in different technology contexts is extremely important,” she says. “I'm particularly interested in technology for well-being; understanding gaming—a form of entertainment—is a small piece of understanding the bigger picture.”

Wohn sees this award, which promotes the spirit of collaboration and desire to discover answers to complex problems, as being symbolic of the application of research beyond the university walls.

“It is easy to be stuck in the ivory tower, but this type of award is validating in that you can see your work being appreciated by [the] industry. It is also a very selective award, so it raises more awareness of our institution, and I think it will open up opportunities for my students in terms of internships and jobs, especially in Silicon Valley.”

Most of the award will be used to fund student research and travel to conferences to present findings.

“Engaging students in research is a very important part of my personal mission as well as NJIT’s broader vision," says Wohn. "I don't think I would have received this award if our institution were not as research-oriented as it is.”

By Shydale James