The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

Projects earn NSF CAREER awards

Five Drexel University professors were named recipients of the National Science Foundation CAREER Award. The NSF CAREER Award was established to reward junior faculty members who have demonstrated excellent potential in research in their field. NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development Program awarded the professors a combined $2.2 million in funding for research and development.

The recipients of the award are College of Information Science and Technology professors Andrea Forte, Jennifer Rode and Aleksandra Sarcevic, as well as College of Engineering professors Rachel Greenstadt and M. Ani Hsieh.

Each professor was honored for her individual scientific research concentration proposal. Sarcevic is working on an improved system to deliver information to fast-response medical teams.

“From the moment I heard about it, it has been such an excitement and honor. It allows me to pursue the goals I have for my academic career, my research career and my advising career,” Sarcevic said. “My research is focused on safety-critical, time-critical teams. … I primarily look at emergency medical teams and crisis situations.”


Sarcevic said she believes the efficiency can be improved with technology. The funds will be for student support because her research will involve the help of graduate and undergraduate students.

“Obviously, there are a lot of hard parts about the research. One of the hard parts was finding what kind of data can be used to solve this problem,” Sarcevic said. “There are a lot of challenges. One of the biggest ones is gaining access to these emergency units.” But with the support from NSF, some of the costs and expenses can be covered.

Greenstadt’s research aims to give people a way to view and manage their online identities to protect their privacy.

“I am very glad that the NSF has chosen to support my research. It’s a really great thing for my students and me and for Drexel. It’s also very useful because it provides five years of funding for research, and it allows me to take on a big project,” Greenstadt said.

Greenstadt’s primary focus is on privacy and security. “In general, my lab tries to apply artificial intelligence to privacy and security problems,” she said. “People have very nuanced privacy preferences. The idea was to analyze people’s data and see if there’s a way to automatically determine what they would want as a privacy policy based on what they do.” She developed an interest in the topic while in her junior year as an undergraduate student.

“I learned a lot about oppressive regimes of surveillance and what happens when the government looks at what everyone is doing. At that time, it was the late 1990s, and there was a lot of excitement about cryptography that would allow people to do things in a more private way. That was what got me excited about this topic in the first place,” Greenstadt said.

Hsieh’s work is focused on further developing navigation for autonomous underwater vehicles.

“I am extremely honored and humbled by the community’s recognition and continued support,” Hsieh said. “Since National Science Foundation proposals are peer reviewed, being awarded a National Science Foundation CAREER Award is equivalent to receiving recognition from the robotics community for our group’s research and educational efforts.”

She continued, “My research is primarily focused on developing theoretical and technological tools that will enable teams of robots to accomplish complex tasks.” She aims to develop strategies to “enable distributed autonomous sensing and tracking of geophysical fluid dynamics and to understand the long-term impact of geophysical fluid dynamics to improve the autonomy of underwater vehicles.”

Because of the complexity and intricacy of their research, future challenges are inevitable. Hsieh noted, “There are always challenges in research. A significant challenge in working with robots in an underwater environment such as the ocean is that field experiments are logistically difficult and costly to conduct. Typical underwater robots can cost from $50,000 to over $200,000 per vehicle.”

Hsieh noted that the NSF award will allow her, along with her graduate students, to continue their research. She believes that their strategies will improve upon existing technology to understand and predict the ocean.

“To our knowledge, this is the first attempt where robots will be used to track and map relevant dynamical features in the ocean and to exploit these features to improve their long-term autonomy,” she said.

Forte’s proposal focused on the impact of participatory technology, including social media, on people’s lives. Her research aims to figure out personal issues with technology.

“It’s fascinating how [social media] is a part of what people do in their everyday lives,” Forte said. “Technology is designed so that people can use information for the things they want to do.” She hopes to encourage students to contribute to websites such as Wikipedia and Creative Commons.

Rode specializes in human-computer interactions, and her research concerns the interaction between elementary school girls and technology. She will work with an all girls’ school to gain further understanding of technological design and feminist attributes. This will aid the way designers meet the needs of female users.

Winning the NSF CAREER Award is an indication of these professors’ aptitude and potential in research in addition to their resilience and tenacity. It marked a highlight in their careers and signaled that there is much more to expect and much more to come.