SCI Students Present Research at Pennsylvania Undergraduate Research Conference (URC-PA)

July 9, 2024

In March 2024, SCI students Florian Reihl and Mofe Taiwo presented research at the Pennsylvania Capitol building for the Undergraduate Research Conference (URC-PA). Reihl and Taiwo (pictured right) were advised by Dr. Aakash Gautam an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Department of Information Culture and Data Stewardship. They partnered with Project Redbound to formulate and present their research “Digital Literacy Among Returning Community Members.”  

“Digital Literacy Among Returning Community Members” explores just one facet of reintegrating formerly incarcerated individuals back into society. “Given the critical role digital literacy plays in our increasingly digitized world,” Taiwo said, “it’s essential for these individuals to gain proficiency in digital tools and technologies to successfully navigate and thrive in today’s society.” The collaborators were inspired to pursue this topic for various reasons, including mentors at SCI and personal experience. 

“A couple of days after the seminar, I had an encounter with a distraught veteran at a bus stop who recently returned to society after his son had passed away. He repeatedly asked me if I thought he was unintelligent and that, in his own words, he felt that he only knew ‘how to hurt people’,” said Reihl. “From the experience, I saw how returning community members felt they lacked the technical skills and self-worth in their reentry journey and chose to commit myself to this meaningful research mission.” 

Taiwo shared that their research began with a comprehensive literature review of existing material on digital literacy. Reihl outlined that interviews allowed them to identify the technological needs of community members and certain design principles they could implement. Currently, they are using log analysis to observe user behavior and usage patterns, and “are in talks and looking for nonprofits in western PA to attend to their specific needs and are looking [forward] to working with other local organizations,” said Reihl. Reihl and Taiwo also noted that SCI helped them instrumentally along the way, providing feedback on iterations of their presentation to aid them in conveying their research in an engaging and integral manner. 

Both Reihl and Taiwo were notified of the opportunity to present at URC-PA by SCI, who also aided them in their registration process. Both were excited to discuss and share their work and research with other like-minded individuals and jumped at the opportunity to make an impact by presenting their findings. 

“Thanks to the support and mentorship of SCI and my advisor,” Reihl says, “I've been able to launch my academic journey. They actively notify me of opportunities, such as URC-PA and the Creative Expression Fair, where I am able to present my work and make connections. These experiences have helped me develop professionally by discussing my work and making connections with peers.... While discussing my work, I was surprised by how often I heard from people who were impressed by the positive impact the research can have on people’s lives.” 

Reihl also said that Dr. Gautam suggested they highlight other issues returning community members might face to demonstrate how their research only addresses a small portion of their challenges. URC-PA allowed the team to convey these issues and directly provide representatives with ways to ease some setbacks and support returning community members. 

In addition to Taiwo and Reihl, more undergraduate SCI students like Heather Diegert (pictured left) are looking forward to presenting research at URC-PA next year. “It was the supportive environment [at SCI] that encouraged me to get involved in research,” Diegert said about her research into strengthening deep learning systems. “As this type of technology becomes increasingly more ingrained in society, with facial recognition, self-driving cars, and more, it’s necessary to ensure the reliability of these machine learning models.... The consequences of even the slightest mistakes can be profound and pose a variety of security, privacy, and safety risks.” Diegert and Dr. William Garrison (teaching assistant professor, Department of Computer Science, and Assistant Dean for Academic Programs, SCI) are continuing their research until the next conference and hope to publish it in the fall. 

After their presentation at URC-PA, Taiwo and Reihl both plan to continue researching the reintegration of the incarcerated into society as well as collaborating with more local organizations, and they each hope to explore more of their interests with the help of SCI. In the words of Taiwo, “Being a student in SCI and participating in URC-PA have been profoundly enriching, offering a platform not only to contribute to meaningful societal change but also to grow personally and professionally. These opportunities have allowed me to engage with a community of like-minded individuals and professionals, broadening my perspective on the role of technology in addressing social challenges and enhancing my skills in research, collaboration, and communication.”

--Gwyneth Bessey

Correction: in an earlier version of this publication, Florian Reihl was spelled 'Riehl'. The spelling error was corrected as of July 15, 2024.