Zaina Aljallad, a recent University of Central Florida (UCF) alumna, researched ways to empower all users, regardless of technical background, with strategies to protect their personal data while using a multitude of apps and services. She published two papers and presented her work at ACM conferences and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Inspired by her roommate who had joined a research lab and with help from her academic advisors, Zaina found her research home in the Socio-Technical Interaction Research (STIR) Lab directed by Dr. Pamela Wisniewski, a faculty in the computer science department. She first contributed to the Carebit project, designing an initial user study for an innovative tele-monitoring app that supports remote caregivers while protecting patient privacy. In the 24-hour simulated user study, five volunteers, simulating informal caregivers, monitored simulated patient health alerts from the Carebit Android app and were asked to send a check-in text message after each alert. Results from the study suggested design improvements such as making alerts persist until manually cleared by the caregiver.
Zaina’s experience with the Carebit project earned her a spot in the NSF-sponsored Socially Relevant Computing Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, where she led the Community Oversight of Privacy and Security (CO-oPS) project. She and her team prototyped an Android-based mobile application that facilitates collaborative decision-making about app privacy permissions. Zaina continued the CO-oPS project after the REU, conducting participatory design (PD) sessions in which groups of 2-4 participants responded to a privacy-related problem scenario by generating their own app designs using generic design elements and pre-defined features. The study identified popular design elements and revealed patterns in user motivations and preferences. “We found users had an issue trusting others outside of their personal community even though they might need to expand beyond those they know to receive helpful advice,” Zaina explained. She presented the results of this study at ACM’s Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) conference in November, 2019.
Thanks in part to a supportive lab environment, Zaina thrived as a Middle Eastern woman in CS research. “I feel very fortunate finding a community of women who make a point to empower other minority women. I was able to focus on my research without the fear of my gender, race, or religion being discriminated against.” Reflecting on her undergraduate research experience as a whole, she mentions collaborating with field experts and traveling to present work and connect with new people as some of the highlights. When rejected from conference paper submissions and scholarship applications, Zaina took the negative reviews in stride, becoming a stronger writer and learning how to persevere through the initial discouragement.
Zaina graduated in May 2020 and now applies her research skills as a User Experience (UX) Researcher at NCR Corporation. A “huge Disney nerd,” she spends her free time connecting with family and friends through streaming specials and video games. Her advice to aspiring undergraduate researchers? “Take every opportunity available to you and never become discouraged. Use every rejection as motivation to improve﹘it will only make success feel so much better!”
– Written and edited by Ian Ludden