Microsoft Research has announced the recipients of the 2020 Ada Lovelace Fellowship, which aims to “increase the diversity of talented people receiving advanced degrees in computing-related fields.” Informatics Ph.D. student Jazette Johnson was one of five students selected to receive the fellowship, which comes with three years of tuition funding and a $42,000 annual stipend. This will allow Johnson to focus on her research of technologies that support healthy independent living for older adults with dementia, which she’s conducting in partnership with the nonprofit organization Alzheimer’s Orange County and UCI’s Stark Lab in Neurology & Behavior.
“Jazette combines a personal passion for dementia care with excellent design and research skills,” says her Ph.D. adviser Gillian Hayes, the Robert A. and Barbara L. Kleist Professor of Informatics.
Johnson’s work examines how virtual support technologies might help combat social isolation and improve mental, emotional and physical health in people with dementia and their caregivers. “My research seeks to understand this design space more deeply, prototype potential innovative solutions, and empirically validate these approaches with an eye toward not only contributing to the science behind technologies for aging but also potentially creating life-changing products for this huge and growing user population.” The Census Bureau has projected that within the next decade, one in five people will be over 65.
“In a modern, digitally enabled society, access to advanced technologies and the ability to use them for the greater good are becoming increasingly essential for ethical and human challenges,” says Johnson.
In developing advanced technologies and tackling such challenges, Microsoft recognizes the value of diversity. “Representation matters, and research has shown that companies do better with more diverse teams,” notes Johnson. “I’m proud that my work is getting recognition,” she says, “but there are a lot of amazing black women in computing.” Johnson wants them to be recognized as well — through works cited and invitations to talks, panels and more. “When talking about diversity, it is important discuss our collective responsibility in fostering inclusion and improving retention,” she says.
Johnson will get the opportunity to meet with Microsoft researchers and other top students at a two-day Ph.D. Summit held in the fall at Microsoft Research. She is well on her way to becoming a skilled designer focused on the greater good. She is a role model for underrepresented students and an advocate for diversity and inclusion in computing.
— Shani Murray