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 Education 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 Education
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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 Education
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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 in Learning Sciences. As a 2019 IDEAS fellow, she is also pursuing a certificate in Integrated Data Science. Currently, her research centers on the implementation of ed-tech programs, like 1:1 computing initiatives. With education policy becoming increasingly data-driven, she is interested in how data is conceptualized and operationalized in education spaces, with particular attention to youth experiences with privacy and surveillance, and how young people are politicized (or depoliticized) in these data-laden contexts.

Ally is working toward an educational data science that embraces explicit analyses of power, enables multiple ways of knowing and being, and builds toward equitable futures that subvert the inequities forged by colonialism, white supremacy, and racial capitalism. Also an artist and musician, Ally enjoys spontaneous and improvised creative collaboration. Previously, she has built telescopes and electric guitars, directed science camps for kids, and developed museum programs as Lead Educator at Chicago Children’s Museum. You can find her on Twitter @alisareith.

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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.

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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 Education
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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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Jessica Rodriguez

Undergraduate Student Researcher

I work with the youth in the YPRPT program of the TREE lab. I am also a sociology major on the pre-medicine track. In addition, I really enjoy learning about intersectionality of fields of study such as technology and race or medicine and sociology. In the future, I hope to be able to ameliorate and empower black and brown communities.

Projects

YPRPT
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Katherine Johns

Undergraduate Student Researcher

I am currently a junior at Northwestern studying Industrial Engineering, Computer Science, and Legal Studies. My ultimate goal is to help create ethically and morally sound technologies. I’m particularly interested in issues such as algorithmic bias, data privacy, political advertisement micro-targeting, and artificial intelligence. Check out my personal website to learn more about me and my 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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Mary Truong

Artist in Residence

Mary is the illustrator for this edition of the journal. She studies computer science art, and she is interested in creating technological artwork to demonstrate ideas about control, production, and interactivity within the digital realm. She likes making weird web apps and games. Her work is on her website, http://marytruong.com.

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 Education
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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

Learning Resources YPRPT
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Thomas Young

Undergraduate Student Researcher

Thomas is a fourth-year student studying Computer Science and Cognitive Science. He works with TREE to better understand new technology and its societal implications. In particular, he is interested in facial recognition technology and its effect on personal privacy.  He started working with TREE for the summer undergraduate research program, designing demos of facial and object recognition technology. He is currently co-designing an interactive facial recognition learning module. He also participates in social media data analysis research within the department of computer science.

Projects

Learning Resources 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 Learning Resources