I was recently asked to answer several questions regarding my research interests. Below are the question and my responses.
Describe your research area and what prompted you to specialize in that area
Currently my research interest lies around issues of power and the role of gatekeepers in addressing digital inequalities. My interest in this area stems from work I did in a court and several public and private schools. During my tenure at the Harlem Community Justice Center (New York City Court for Innovations) I had the opportunity to talk and work with individuals who were leaving prison to return to the communities they once lived in. I observed their interactions with Parole Reentry Court and noted the constant struggle between what the court requested of individuals and what individuals were able to do. Conversations with these individuals led me to conclusion that they were released without digital literacy skills that would make the transition back into their communities a bit more seamless.
My work in schools was centered in the library and was part of over 100 hours of field work and an additional 40 days in an elementary and secondary school in New York City. During the duration of this time I engaged in many activities ranging from program development to weeding titles from the collection. One of my primary tasks was to help students develop skills that would make them better seekers of information in the digital environment. Though a series of lectures and scenarios which required the application taught skills and techniques, students demonstrated their competency with regards to seeking and using information. During this whole experience I consistently observed students struggling to internalize idea like information reliability and integrity, to search beyond what Google provided, and even determining the best way to go about completing a task.
It reminded me of conversations I had while working at the Harlem Community Justice Center with individuals reentering community. Although I had observed only the students, I imagine people leaving prison were experiencing similar struggles. An essential difference is that little to no work was being done to ensure people being released from prison have the digital literacy skills necessary to successfully engage in an information society. Skills that would allow them to build an resume online, to fill out electronic job applications, to obtain copy’s of documents (e.g. drivers license, birth certificate), to locate health related services, etc. Skills that can potentially lower recidivism rates. With so much of our daily lives shifting from the analog realm to the digital realm, these skills are not only essential, but mandatory. This led me to question the role of the department of corrections (prisons) in bridging the digital divide / digital inequalities that inmates will face before they are released back in to the community. More broadly, this prompted me to try and understand the responsibility of institutions (schools, prisons, company’s) in addressing the digital divide and digital inequalities that may exist among particular groups.
Who could benefit from your research and how?
There are a range of parties that benefit from my line of research. At he most granular level, the groups which I am interested in understanding will benefit. In this particular point in time, it would be individuals who are being released from prison without the tools necessary for those in an information society. As it stands, the role and impact of information and communications technologies (ICT) on the lives of those that can successfully engage with it has been acknowledge. So much so, many initiatives have been established in an attempt to get as many people to gain access (physical and skills) as possible. Furthermore, many of these efforts identify a range of marginalized groups –blind, homeless, mentally challenged, physically disabled, etc. However, often overlooked and ignored in these conversations are members of our communities that are currently are were previously incarcerated. Although this has been the case, if the United States wants funds invested in to prisons to help ensure that inmates have not only served their time, but also gained the skills that will lessen the chances of recidivism, we need to understand the phenomena as it pertains to them. By giving them a voice, my research promises this. It aims to give a voice to a group who need digital literacy skills as much as anyone else.
In a time where investment in incarceration is at an all time high and incarceration rates are increasing, another group that could benefit from this research is correction facilities across the country. The information that will be gathered in this research can correctional centers determine how to direct future investments. It can help them, in light of reservations and concerns see the importance and severity of the matter. It can aid in updating their programming and rehabilitation efforts to ensure inmates are being provided with an environment where they can obtain the digital literacy skills necessary to operate in an information society.
More broadly, researchers, policy makers, and society as a whole can benefit from this work. Researchers and policy makers can benefit because they would finally have information that would would them to understand the digital digital divide / digital inequality landscape in more depth. Researchers can use this information to conduct further research on this group, compare data to other marginalized groups, etc. Policy makers will have concrete data points describing the digital divide as experienced by inmates who are being released into society can use that information to help the development of policies that address the introduction of digital literacy training and varying technologies in to prisons. The residual effect of these provide solace to the communities these individuals come from. It would increase the chances that they reenter society with the skills and ability to be productive contributor and not detractors in society. Another benefit for society is that this can amount to millions of dollars in savings to states, money that can be spend else where.
Lastly, it is my belief that in additional to informing information science professionals, the finding from my research will inform research in other areas like computer science, information assurance, criminal justice, sociology and public affairs.
What are your career goals beyond earning your graduate degree?
Beyond earning a graduate degree, I intend to continue conducting research aligned with my current research agenda, exploring and trying understand issues of power and its relevance to the role of gatekeepers in addressing digital inequalities across different groups.This time would also be well spent educating future information practitioners and professionals alike about concepts related to digital inequalities and engaging them ;in thought provoking conversations. Furthermore, I would like lend my expertise to aid in the development of policy as it relates to those incarcerated and digital divide bridging initiatives and more broadly digital inclusion efforts on a global level. Additionally, I hope to be able to to provide my services to developing nations who are striving to embrace the idea of an information society in its entirety.
Have you overcome any particular obstacles or challenges to get where you are in your course of study? If so, could you describe them?
Challenges are a normal part of our existence as human beings. Challenges that relate to me pursuing a PhD. in Information Science appeared in many ways, being as early as elementary school. At that stage it involved getting the assistance I needed at home to progress on to high school. Being a first generation American and one of eight children living in Harlem made that a challenging task. In high school the challenge was fighting assumptions that I did not want to succeed. Suspicions that I could not excel in school because of some of the company that I kept. From high school on forward the challenges mainly dealt with gaining the skills necessary to excel in the academic environment. Things like how to read for maximum efficiency, being able to effectively articulate ideas on paper, and captivate an audience. Although I have improved greatly in each of these areas, they continue to be a challenge. Consequently, I am always refining them. It is through the mercy of ALLAH and then the refining process that I have and continue to build up my capacity to successfully engage with academics, practitioners, and common folk alike.
What advice would you give to undergraduate students who want to go to graduate school?
Ultimately everything you do should have a greater purpose. As a result I would advise undergraduates interested in attending graduate school to turn to ALLAH for guidance. Doing this can increase the chances that whatever program/school they select will benefit them in this world and the hereafter.