CHCI Alumni: Aakash Gautam
October 4, 2021
Aakash Gautam graduated from Virginia Tech with a PhD in Computer Science and Applications this year. He recently joined San Francisco State University as an assistant professor in the CS department. Aakash describes the influence of his HCI training at VT this way, “I still vividly remember Steve Harrison's Models and Theories of HCI class that I took back in 2015. It set the path for my research work at VT. When I think of HCI at VT, I think about CHCI. I loved being part of the CHCI community. The opportunity to discuss my ongoing work in an informal setting and present significant progress during the playdate was very helpful.” His goal is to “establish an HCI research group there [at SFSU]. Among other things, I will try to emulate Hack N Snack there!”
Aakash says of his research interests, “I am interested in exploring how socio-technical systems can help in promoting dignity, well-being, and the collective capacity of marginalized populations. Leaning upon participatory approaches and learning sciences, my research aims to foster enduring human values using social and cultural resources already present in the community.” During his graduate work at VT, he studied approaches to (1) promote dignified reintegration into the Nepali society of people who have survived sex trafficking (example publications: dissertation, CHI 2020 paper) and (2) create conditions for empowered digital literacy in middle school students by integrating computational thinking into their science curriculum through a project called CHEM+C (example publications: SIGCSE 2020 paper; IAP book chapter). His advisor was Deborah Tatar.
These projects are exemplary of Aakash’s research approach. “In both these projects, I attended to issues of power differences to address systemic inequities. I prioritized the voices of people who have been pushed to the margins while seeking ways to engage with multiple layers of structures within the setting. This methodological stance stems from my belief that technology functions as an intermediary in facilitating people to come together, have a say in the process of change, and make moves towards enacting their desired futures. Forming long-term relationships with communities has been fundamental to the work I have done so far, and it will be central to the work I envision doing in the future.”