Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s John Matta, PhD, has earned the SIUE Graduate School’s 2022-23 Vaughnie Lindsay New Investigator Award in support of his innovative research on equity and inclusion in computer science.
Matta is an assistant professor in the School of Engineering (SOE) Department of Computer Science. His scholarly interests focus on complex networks, machine learning, graph, theory and computing education. He will receive a combined $12,500 from the SIUE Graduate School and SOE to be used in a one-year period.
The award will fund his research project, entitled “Developing an Open-Source Mobile App to Improve Participation of Underserved Populations in Respondent-Driven Sampling Surveys” which aims to develop a software solution to help researchers conduct respondent-driven sampling (RDS), a survey technique to collect data on hard-to-reach populations.
“I feel honored to get this award and am excited that students will be able to share in the continuing research that the award will provide,” stated Matta. “This project is a continuation of my current research interests, which involve using computer science to study social and medical problems. This award will open the door to many opportunities around conducting and analyzing surveys and studying the ways in which computer science can contribute to the process.”
Matta and his research team will conduct user tests and focus groups to inform the creation of an RDS survey app where the needs of low-income respondents with low-power devices are given special consideration. According to Matta, moving RDS surveys from computers to more accessible smartphones and tablets will expand the range of populations being reached, leading to improved public health data.
“Currently, RDS is lacking a go-to software solution that aids distribution and management of a survey,” he explained. “An open-source app for participant use paired with a website for survey management will provide a low cost, effective and innovative solution that will have benefits for both researchers and survey recruits.”
“The overall research goal is to use computer science to empower minorities and the underserved,” Matta added. “RDS surveys are a tool used by many researchers to gain information about hard-to-reach populations. Developing a custom RDS tool is a first step towards continuing research involving collecting and analyzing social and medical data concerning those populations.”
“By connecting to underserved and disadvantaged populations who do not have access to current computers or smart phone devices, Dr. Matta’s research will make a significant impact in improving our understanding and response to the needs of these populations, who are often overlooked in our methods of data collection,” said Jerry Weinberg, PhD, associate provost for research and dean of the SIUE Graduate School. “This is exactly the level of significant impact that the award was set up to support, and that honors Dr. Vaughnie Lindsay’s vision for SIUE.”
Stephen Hansen, PhD, faculty emeritus, established the Lindsay Research Professorship Endowment that funds the award in honor of Lindsay, who served as graduate dean from 1973-1986. Lindsay was responsible for creating much of the infrastructure that supports faculty research and scholarly activity at SIUE. Faculty and emeriti faculty at the time of the award’s conception donated the funds to endow the award.
Those wishing to help support new investigators through the award may donate to the Graduate School section of the endowment at siue.edu/give/.