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UMSI News, Awards & Honors: June 2024

Recent UMSI awards and honors in yellow text with a purple background featuring a silhouette of a trophy.

Tuesday, 06/04/2024

University of Michigan School of Information researchers are addressing real-world problems through their work. Each day, UMSI faculty and PhD students are thinking through complex issues like privacy and security, the ethics of artificial intelligence, how best to use technology to leverage better health outcomes and meaningful practices for archiving works from marginalized communities. 

Their accomplishments are recognized both nationally and internationally. Here are some recent highlights. 

UMSI clinical assistant professor Jesse Johnston has launched “Sound Files,” a new podcast with the National Recording Preservation Foundation. Through Johnston’s appointment as the secretary of the board of directors and executive director of the NRPF, the podcast celebrates the preservation of recorded sounds and the people and organizations who preserve them. 

The show is hosted by Jesse Johnston and UMSI graduate and audio preservationist Evan Haywood. The first episode features a conversation with educator, media producer, and radio preservationist Jocelyn Robinson, who is working on a project to preserve radio broadcast archives at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

During the conversation, Johnston, Haywood and Robinson dig into the history of these radio stations and their importance to campus life, as well as Robinson’s ongoing work to gather resources to survey and preserve the archives of about 30 stations throughout the southeast. 

“What's really fun is getting personal insight on why people are passionate about doing preservation work and what really makes it meaningful,” Johnston said. 

Each month, the podcast will release one episode. As UMSI faculty, Johnston is especially looking forward to sharing the podcast with students and exposing them to a network of audio preservationists. 

“I feel like it really helps students hear from a current practitioner or hear about current issues as they play out in the field,” he says.

UMSI assistant professor Michaelanne Thomas has earned a 2024 SUCCEED (Supporting Careers and Cultivating Excellence, Engagement, and Diversity) faculty grant from the U-M Advance Program. The grant funds a wide range of scholarly activity to meet the needs of faculty members in the arts, humanities and social sciences. 

Thomas is a cultural anthropologist whose research explores how people collaboratively design, access and participate with internet technologies in constrained contexts. Much of her work has taken place in Cuba, where she studied how people are building their own internet infrastructures despite long standing resource and information constraints.

Her current research is taking her back to Cuba in 2025 to study how families engage with digital technologies to better connect with each other. The grant allows her to take her children with her, which is not only integral to her ability to conduct field research in Cuba, but increases trust between herself and  the families she’s working with. 

“This is a continuation of work I’ve been doing in Havana, Cuba since 2014,” she says. “I’m looking at how networks of families sustain and support each other across virtual boundaries and geographical borders.

“I’m really grateful for the SUCCEED grant because I genuinely believe if you want to see increased presence of women and underrepresented scholars in this field, you have to be able to support this kind of innovation.” 

UMSI Lecturer III Jim Rampton and Elle O’Brien have earned honored instructor recognition by Michigan Housing. The award recognizes instructors who have made a positive impact on residential students. 

Rampton, a former lead product designer at General Motors, joined UMSI in 2023 as a full-time lecturer. He currently teaches many of UMSI’s automotive UX courses

"This is such an honor and was the biggest reassurance I got for teaching in my first year,” Rampton says. “It means the world to know I made an impact on a student enough for them to put in the effort to make this nomination. My favorite part of teaching is being around students who are just as eager and excited to learn about UX as I am. It's contagious and it's ultimately made me a better designer, too." 

Elle O’Brien, a former neuroscientist, teaches in the MADS program at UMSI. 

“I was touched that a student would nominate me for this award,” O’Brien says. “Creating a classroom where students can take risks and challenge themselves is hard work. Receiving this award is a nice reminder of why it is so worthwhile. My favorite part of teaching is seeing students mature from learners who receive knowledge to practitioners who make knowledge from data. It gives me a lot of hope and excitement about what my students will do after graduation.” 

UMSI PhD candidate Alex Jiahong Lu received a Spirit of Detroit Award from the Detroit City Council, recognizing “exceptional achievement, outstanding leadership and dedication to improving the quality of life in Detroit." Lu was nominated by their dissertation project’s community partner, Friends of Parkside, a non-profit community-based organization supporting residents of the Villages at Parkside in Eastside Detroit. Lu also received a Certificate of Appreciation from Friends of Parkside, recognizing their “outstanding dedication and tireless efforts in supporting the Parkside community.”

Lu’s dissertation work engages with residents from Detroit’s Eastside to understand the situated meanings of safety to collectively reimagine community safety beyond surveillance technologies (such as Detroit’s Project Green Light and facial recognition interventions) through arts-based and community-based participatory research.

In this work, Lu closely collaborated with community partners and members in seeking funding, conceptualizing and designing creative research methods aligned with the community’s needs and interests and collaboratively disseminating the research outcomes to the broader community through community-based events. 

“Community-based research should not be about knowledge extraction,” Lu says. “Instead, it is about collaborating closely with community members, centering their voices at different stages of the project, and more importantly, building relationships and solidarity for change that go beyond the project itself, which all take time and sensibility.”

Lu has successfully defended their dissertation and will be graduating this summer from UMSI. After graduation, they will start as a tenure-track assistant professor at Rutgers University School of Communication and Information.

“I was very thrilled to be nominated by my community partner and receive these awards; it means so much to me,” Lu says. “As a Chinese person and an immigrant from the other side of the world, I feel honored to be welcomed and loved by the amazing Black communities in Detroit that I’ve been working with. They have taught me who I am as a human, how I should re-understand the world, how I could experience and express love, and what research means.”


Learn more about program offerings and research from UMSI by visiting our homepage


— Noor Hindi, UMSI public relations specialist