July 25, 2019

Affiliate Assistant Professor and Senior Researcher Dr. Robin Mays Awarded NSF Grant to Cultivate Ethical STEM

When Dr. Robin Mays began her doctoral program in Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) at the University of Washington, she already had over a decade of practice in the humanitarian sector as a logistician. Now, through a three-year award from the National Science Foundation’s program on Cultivating Cultures for Ethical STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), she is combining her experience in a field guided by ethical imperatives and codes of conduct with her doctoral work. The grant research project is aimed at aligning information technology development with ethical humanitarian culture. Led by Dr. Mays, the research team will bring together humanitarians, ICT creators, and STEM researchers across the globe to pursue innovations for technical accountability to humanitarian values.


Collaboration between the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and UW builds on 8 years of partnership within HCDE. Omar Abou-Samra, Director of the Preparedness Services and Global Disaster Preparedness Center (GDPC) of the American Red Cross and Principal Investigator says, “As HICT becomes more ubiquitous in the humanitarian space, it has raised a host of new and complicated ethical and rights-based questions for design and development. Our collaboration with the University of Washington’s Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE), however, has introduced us to new academic and applied insights and approaches in the areas of socio-technical studies and human-centered design that are helping us to recognize and better address the cultural gap between our technology partners’ methods and our non-negotiable humanitarian ethos.” Professor Mark Haselkorn, Director of the Center for Collaborative Systems for Security, Safety and Regional Resilience and Co-Principal Investigator says, “This research brings a valuable opportunity for incorporating practice-driven learning for ICT design and development.”


Dr. Bas Lijnse, researcher in Software Science at the University of Nijmegen and Associate Professor of operational ICT at the Netherlands Defence Academy, visiting HCDE this summer, welcomes the effort, “The awareness of ethics in the humanitarian field brings out the tensions of introducing technology into a highly ethical field of work — from which we can learn a lot not just for ICT, but for STEM in general.”  Dr. Mays’ humanitarian experience and ambitions drive her quest for merging STEM and social values. “We are doing something at a new and deeper level here. By opening new lines of research for making STEM more accountable to social goods, we can increase STEM’s capacity to explicitly design for the well-being of our communities.”