The         Lab

Examining Technology, Race, Equity, and Ethics in Education

The TREE Lab

People

We are a diverse group of university students, faculty, and community members. Read more about our faculty, students, and collaborators below.

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Sepehr Vakil

Principal Investigator

Dr. Sepehr Vakil is the Principal Investigator and Co-Director (alongside Dr. Sarah Van Wart) of the Technology Race Ethics and Equity in Education (TREE) Lab in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University, where he is currently an assistant professor of Learning Sciences.

Previously he was Assistant Professor of STEM Education and the Associate Director of Equity & Inclusion in the Center for STEM Education at the University of Texas at Austin. Vakil’s current research projects span three broad thematic areas of focus: (a) ethics, learning, and technology, (b) participatory design and community-engaged research methodologies, and (c) historical and sociopolitical analyses of engineering education across global contexts.

Dr. Vakil recently received the National Science Foundation’s early CAREER award, as well as the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral fellowship. He received his PhD in the Education in Mathematics, Science, and Technology program at UC Berkeley, and his B.S and M.S in Electrical Engineering from UCLA.

Projects

CS Ethics Course YPRPT
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Sarah Van Wart

Principal Investigator

Dr. Sarah Van Wart is a Co-Director / Co-PI (alongside Dr. Sepehr Vakil) of the TREE Lab. She is an Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Department of Computer Science at Northwestern University, where she teaches courses in HCI, web design / development, introductory programming, and ethics (forthcoming).

Prior to academia, she spent about a decade developing and maintaining data and communication infrastructures to support public accountability and transparency within city and regional planning efforts. She later pursued her PhD in Information Science at UC Berkeley, where she studied the role of data and computing in supporting civic participation and advocacy among young people.

Her current research examines two broad themes: (1) the possibilities and limits of data-centric approaches to grassroots civic advocacy; and (2) how to design inclusive learning environments that foster robust computing and data literacies.

Projects

CS Ethics Course
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Raphael Nash

YPRPT Co-Founder

Co-Founder of YPRPT, Raphael Nash, is an award-winning independent film producer, video director, and adjunct professor at DePaul University and The University of Illinois at Chicago. After receiving his MFA in Film & Media Arts from Temple University in 2011, his academic focus has been on teaching courses centered in the representation of race & ethnicity in film, and leading under-represented communities into the world of film production.

He is also the owner of Endangered Peace Productions, a full-service corporate video, and independent film production house. Their most recently produced work is the critically acclaimed feature film “Saint Frances”.

Projects

YPRPT
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Temitope Sonuyi

Senior Tech Advisor

Temitope Sonuyi is a technology professional, yoga instructor, and entrepreneur. He serves as a senior tech advisor to the TREE lab. In Summer 2019, Temitope was lead designer of the GeoMedia system, a social media surveillance tool developed specifically for educational purposes for the YPRPT students.

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Natalie Melo

PhD Student Researcher

Natalie Melo is a first-year graduate student in the Computer Science and Learning Sciences PhD program at Northwestern University. She is co-advised by Dr. Sepehr Vakil and Dr. Marcelo Worsley. Natalie grew up attending Malden (MA) Public Schools and graduated with a degree in Computer Science at the University of Pennsylvania as a Questbridge and Janey Scholar. Motivated by her personal and professional experiences, Natalie’s current interests lie in critical theory and technology studies, as well as in examining notions of diversity, equity, and inclusion within the field of computer science.

In her free time, Natalie enjoys chances to celebrate life with family and friends, as well as making brigadeiros (Brazilian chocolates), reading, running, dancing, karaoke-ing, and more.

Projects

CS Ethics Course Computing & Ethics Field Guide YPRPT
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Jessica Marshall

PhD Student Researcher

Jessie is a former high school social studies educator and life-long Chicagoan. She is currently pursuing her Phd in Learning Sciences at Northwestern where she spends a lot of time thinking about school-based civic education.

Prior to graduate school, Jessie served as the Director of Social Science and Civic Engagement for the Chicago Public Schools where her work with educators and students led her to partner with scholars on a Lived Civics approach to civic education.

She hopes to contribute to a reimagining of civics, where issues of race, identity and lived experience are understood as central to learning. As a member of the YPRPT team, Jessie helped to co-design learning activities with YPRPT partners as well as support research on the program itself.

Projects

YPRPT
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Ally Reith

PhD Student Researcher

Ally is a PhD student and graduate worker studying Learning Sciences in the School of Education and Social Policy, and a 2019 and 2020 NSF-NRT IDEAS Integrated Data Science Fellow. She serves on the student advisory board for Northwestern’s Office of Equity in addition to Northwestern’s Community Safety Advisory Board. In her work with TREE Lab, she aims to disentangle the complex sociopolitical and ethical dimensions of AI-based ed-tech and other technologies in learning spaces. Looking forward, her dissertation work will explore what school districts mean (and what implications arise) when they describe decision-making as “data-driven”, and how data, broadly construed, is conceptualized, operationalized, and politicized in schools.

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Charles Logan

PhD Student Researcher

Charles is a second-year PhD student in the Learning Sciences program. A former high school English teacher and university educational technologist, his research interests include critical digital pedagogy, co-authoring counter-narratives to oppose sociotechnical and ed-tech imaginaries, and designing learning experiences to support educational dignity.

Outside the TREE Lab, Charles can be found running along Lake Michigan or building elaborate forts with his two children.

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Cortez Watson

PhD Student Researcher

Professor Watson has 22 years of youth development experience in a variety of formal and informal educational settings. Cortez is the founder of an educational consultancy titled The Hip-Hop F.I.R.M. Cortez Watson, Jr. is an educator, youth developer and budding learning scientist Professor. The Hip-Hop F.I.R.M. (The Firm) is a collective of educational architects revisioning and building the next generation of educational EXPERIENCE at the academic intersections of Black Youth Development, The Hip-Hop Phenomenon and Critical Race Theory. Cortez's client list includes the Obama Foundation, The Black Star Project, The Archdiocese of Chicago, Northwestern University, Illinois Public School District 65 to name a few. Professor Watson is also a first year PhD student in the learning sciences at Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy. Cortez holds a B.A. in Urban Planning and Theology/Religion and a Master of Education in Youth Development. Cortez is also an educator in Goodwin College of Education at Northeastern Illinois University. As an adjunct professor, Mr. Watson teaches Psychology of Instruction and Learning. Lastly, Cortez is a father of a Beautiful Black American/Asian American daughter named Scarlett and states that it’s his number one job and she is his greatest accomplishment.

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Akansha Raj

Undergraduate Student Researcher

Akansha Raj (she/her) is a second year student studying electrical engineering. She became interested in technology and design while she was a part of her school’s robot fighting team. After coming to Northwestern, she was excited to join the TREE Lab as it combined her love of engineering with her concerns regarding how technology interacts with people’s lives.

Projects

BreakPoint Journal
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Bijal Mehta

Undergraduate Student Researcher

Bijal is a rising senior studying Social Policy and Computer Science, and has been working with the TREE Lab since Fall 2019. She is interested in the intersection of technology, law and policy, especially the unregulated use of AI/machine learning in the US criminal justice system. She is excited to work with the TREE Lab to learn more about the interactions of technology and ethics and to help educate the community and facilitate discussion on these issues.

Projects

CS Ethics Course Computing & Ethics Field Guide
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Caryl Henry

Undergraduate Student Researcher

Caryl is a junior majoring in Computer Science while pursuing a minor in Psychology, the Segal Design Certificate, Integrated Marketing Communications Certificate, and Digital Media Module. She also has conducted Human-Computer Interaction research through COMP_SCI 315: Design, Technology, and Research. Caryl’s diverse academic background and experience in Human-Computer Interaction research has made her passionate about developing technology responsibly such that helping people is at the forefront.

She’s a big fan of music that was cool in 2007 and is a major nerd when it comes to anything Nintendo or anime. Also, Caryl says “process” and “adult” weirdly because she picked up the Canadian pronunciation by watching too many HGTV shows based in Canada when she was younger.

Projects

CS Ethics Course Computing & Ethics Field Guide
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Gregory Voelkel

Undergraduate Student Researcher

Gregory Voelkel is a Filmmaker and Undergraduate Researcher with Northwestern University’s TREE Lab, specifically with the YPRPT Program and in collaboration with Family Matters. He is originally from Columbia, South Carolina.

Gregory is passionate about community engagement and the power of storytelling, leading him to his involvement with YPRPT, where he assists in the production of documentaries with a social justice heartbeat. He cherishes the opportunity to work alongside brilliant and empathetic individuals at YPRPT and TREE Lab, and is constantly inspired by his colleagues. Outside of YPRPT, Gregory is a writer/director of short films.

In his free time, Gregory enjoys writing, keeping up to date on movies and television, and spending time outdoors and in nature.

Projects

YPRPT
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Katherine Johns

Undergraduate Student Researcher

Katherine is currently a senior at Northwestern studying Industrial Engineering, Computer Science, and Legal Studies. Her ultimate goal is to help create ethically and morally sound technologies. She’s particularly interested in issues such as algorithmic bias, data privacy, political advertisement micro-targeting, and artificial intelligence. Check out her personal website to learn more about her and her work: https://katherine-johns.github.io/home.

Projects

BreakPoint Journal
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Kimani Isaac

Undergraduate Student Researcher

Kimani Isaac is a class of ‘2020 Questbridge Scholar who is passionate about activism, technology, and the arts. She studies Learning and Organizational Change within the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University, and is extremely happy to have been part of the process of forming the BreakPoint journal. Also, she loves cats and cooking, but only when they’re mutually exclusive.

Projects

BreakPoint Journal
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Olivia Gallager

Undergraduate Student Researcher

Olivia is working on developing lessons for a Computer Science and Ethics course to be taught in the Fall after taking Professor Vakil’s Intersections of Race and Technology course in SESP.

Olivia is a third year undergraduate computer science major in the McCormick School of Engineering. She is interested in understanding the social contexts that create technologies as we know them and the political aftermath they create. She is also a member of the Design Technology and Research program at Northwestern, working on a project in Agile Research Studios.

Projects

CS Ethics Course Computing & Ethics Field Guide
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Rhea Ramaiya

Undergraduate Student Researcher

Rhea is a third-year undergraduate student studying Computer Science and Economics. She has been a part of the TREE Lab since it started in the summer of 2019, when she worked with it as a SURAP student. That summer, she built a facial recognition demonstration for YPRPT students to teach them more about the technologies that they interact with everyday. She has also created demonstrations on Algorithms and Databases.

She is really excited about how quickly the Lab is taking off and accomplishing so many things, and she can’t wait to see what lies in the future of TREE.

In her free time, Rhea enjoys reading, watching movies, running, and traveling.

Projects

Computing & Ethics Field Guide YPRPT
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Titobi Williams

Undergraduate Student Researcher

Titobi is a rising senior at Northwestern, studying Computer Science and Legal Studies. Her interests lie at the intersection of technology, race and justice. She works across many initiatives withing the TREE Lab, including designing and implementing the TREE website, and helping to design and develop online learning resources (e.g. facial recognition / surveillance technologies). She will be interning remotely with Google during the summer of 2020.

Projects

BreakPoint Journal Computing & Ethics Field Guide

Alums

Jessica Rodriguez

  • Undergraduate Student Researcher (2019-2020)
  • Worked on: YPRPT

Mary Truong

Thomas Young