NCWIT is excited to name Dr. Mary Lou Maher, Professor in the Department of Software and Information Systems, College of Computing and Informatics at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, the recipient of the 2023 Harrold and Notkin Research and Graduate Mentoring Award.
The Harrold and Notkin Research and Graduate Mentoring Award is sponsored by the NCWIT Board of Directors and recognizes faculty members from non-profit institutions who distinguish themselves through outstanding research and excellent graduate mentoring, as well as those who recruit, encourage, and promote women and minorities in computing. It is given in memory of Mary Jean Harrold and David Notkin, to honor their outstanding research, graduate mentoring, and diversity contributions.
Dr. Mary Lou Maher earned her Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in 1984, where she also began her career as a professor. She later moved to University of Sydney and started the Bachelor of Design Computing in the Faculty of Architecture. While at the National Science Foundation (NSF) from 2006-2010, she was Deputy Director of the Information and Intelligent Systems Division and a Program Director. During her time there, she established the CreativeIT program and helped manage the Human Centered Computing, Cyber-Enabled Discovery and Innovation, Design Science, and Social-Computational Systems Programs. While at the University of Maryland, she developed collaborative projects on crowdsourcing design for citizen science and introduced design thinking to graduate projects in information management.
After 4 years at NSF, she moved to UNC Charlotte to Chair the Department of Software and Information Systems and lead the Center for Education Innovation and the Human Centered Computing Lab. The department is best known for its teaching and research in intelligent systems, human centered design, and cyber security. As Department Chair, she mentored faculty to increase research participation, external funding, and innovation in teaching. Dr. Maher has a long history of mentoring diverse students. About half of the 23 Ph.D. students she’s graduated have been women. She’s also encouraged the department to integrate DEI modules into first and second-year courses. She is highly regarded by her students and colleagues for her in-depth engagement as a mentor. In addition, she has innovated within her institution to improve how computer science is taught and how students learn about teaching.
Dr. Maher serves on the Equity and Inclusion Committee that is advising and tracking diversity activities in the College. She is the lead PI on two NSF-funded projects with a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion focus, including working with middle-school teachers in a “minority majority” school to develop computational thinking.
Nadia Najjar, a former Ph.D. advisee who supported Dr. Maher for the Harrold and Notkin award, notes that “I first came to know Dr. Maher as I was a PhD student in the department when she joined UNC Charlotte as Chair of the Software and Information Systems Department. As a Chair she went above and beyond the normal call of duty connecting with graduate students and getting to know them, understanding their story and their goals. As a student, I always felt this personal attention and acknowledgment but most importantly it enabled her to provide invaluable perspective, feedback, and advice.”
She continued, “Dr. Maher’s contributions to the educational mission of our department and college are numerous and outstanding. Her work and efforts focus on continuous reflection to drive improvements. She ensured that open forums were established for graduate students to reflect and connect with one another as well as faculty. She listens to her students and does everything in her power to address any issues that would arise. One of the most impactful changes she implemented was expanding many professional development opportunities to graduate students. That helped break barriers between the two groups and enabled students to acquire skills beyond research.”
In addition to her work with the Department of Software and Information Systems, Dr. Maher is Director of the Center for Education Innovation in the College of Computing and Informatics at UNC Charlotte. The Center for Education Innovation (CEI) was established in 2013 to focus and encourage innovation in CS education. The CEI has over 20 externally funded projects in flipped classroom education, lightweight teams, innovative digital technologies for education, and service learning. The CEI places an emphasis on CS education methods that develop T-shaped computing professionals and researchers. She also serves as Co-Director of the HCI Lab, Department of Software and Information Systems, College of Computing and Informatics, UNC Charlotte: The HCI Lab at UNC Charlotte focuses on creativity, ubiquitous computing, novel interaction technologies, recommender systems, interaction with big data, and usable security. The HCI Lab has 5 faculty, 4-6 undergraduate researchers, 1-3 MS researchers, 12-15 PhD students, and a Research Professor.
Dr. Weichao Wang, a a colleague of Dr. Maher, and Chair of the Department of Software and Information Systems at UNCC notes that, “Dr. Maher’s leadership in the graduate mentoring and education is also demonstrated by her efforts to create a learning and training atmosphere for both faculty and graduate TAs for improving their pedagogy practices.” Since the formation of the center, Dr. Maher has organized bi-weekly education innovation seminars and has led two training courses to help graduate students develop pedagogical skills, practice teaching strategies, and explore research topics in CS education.
Dr. Maher’s research interests span a broad area of design and computing, specifically the study and development of novel interaction and communications technology, and models of design and creativity. Her research draws on and contributes to human-computer interaction, intelligent systems, computer-supported collaborative work, design science, and computational creativity. Her current research has a focus on developing social-computational models and new technology as we scale up from creativity enhancing human-computer interaction, through effective collaborative systems, to large-scale and highly motivating collective intelligence and crowdsourcing. Some highlights of her recent research are: developing models of motivation, innovation, and diversity in collective intelligence, designing tangible and immersive interaction environments and evaluating their impact on creative cognition; the design and study of virtual worlds for collaboration and education; and developing computational models of curiosity for extending the functionality of search and motivated reinforcement learning algorithms.
Dr. Maher has received national and international recognition as a distinguished researcher in the fields of human centered design, computer education, and artificial intelligence. Google Scholar notes that her publications have been cited for more than 12,300 times by researchers around the world. According to plos.org, Dr. Maher is considered to be amongst the most cited researchers in the field of AI and Visualization. She received the best paper awards of the 2014 International Conference Design Computing and Cognition and 2022 International Conference on Computer Science Education.
NCWIT is delighted to recognize Dr. Maher’s contributions as a distinguished educator, researcher, mentor, and leader for the graduate mentoring programs, research innovation, and diversity, equity, and inclusion in her department, college, at UNC Charlotte, and elsewhere.