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Computer Science prof celebrated as one of the top 150 Canadian Women in STEM

Posted by Becca Rawcliffe, Dal News on September 21, 2017 in News, Community, Awards
Dal CS prof Rita Orji (Danny Abriel photo)
Dal CS prof Rita Orji (Danny Abriel photo)

Since joining the Faculty of Computer Science in July 2017, assistant professor Dr. Rita Orji is already making an impact.

As Canada turns 150, non-profit hEr VOLUTION is celebrating its top 150 Canadian Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), with Dr. Orji chosen in recognition of her efforts in and out of the classroom to advance technology.

Toronto-based hEr VOLUTION exists to create opportunities for the next generation of women in STEM, connecting them with leaders in the industry. Their 150CanWomenSTEM initiative is celebrating outstanding women, both past and present, who make the world a better place using the power of STEM.

Cited as “resonating 100% with the spirit of Canada,” Dr. Orji shares this honour with women from across Canada and the decades.

“To be listed alongside the likes of Harriet Brooks, Roberta Lynn Bondar and Kirsty Duncan, is pretty overwhelming,” says Dr. Orji.

“It’s important that we celebrate women in STEM to continue to encourage and inspire young females to become the leaders of tomorrow. We are still a minority in a number of fields, including Computer Science and Technology, we need to share success stories and demonstrate the wide range of opportunities available.”

The power to inspire

Using her personal experiences, Dr. Orji is dedicated to helping inspire the next generation of female tech leaders.

“I am committed to promoting excellence, diversity and inclusion in Computer Science, it is necessary for the advancement of the field,” says Dr. Orji. “Being a minority myself, and knowing the everyday struggles of women, I have participated in and initiated a number of outreach activities both in Canada and in my native country Nigeria.

“I founded the Education for Women and the Less Privileged, to empower and encourage diversity and inclusion. Being the first female and the youngest person to earn a PhD from a town of over 50,000 people, I am motivated to remove the very low glass ceiling against female education and give back to society.”

Dr. Orji, a researcher in Human-Computer Interaction, has produced more than 50 peer reviewed papers in only five years, along with taking part in over 20 media appearances receiving in excess of 500 Google Scholar citations. She recently joined Dalhousie from the University of Waterloo.

Technology for good

One of her key research interests is exploring the use of persuasive and assistive technologies to help people to achieve constructive changes in their behavior, such as the improvement of diet, physical activity, or the control of binge drinking.

“Many people tend to focus on the negative impacts of modern technologies, such as social media and gaming, but we can use them for positive social good,” explains Dr. Orji.

In a recent project, Dr. Orji and her colleagues demonstrated that this can be an effective tool, but that techniques of gameplay motivation need to be specifically tailored to the personality of each user.

“Personality type matters. A technique that motivates one user might actually be demotivating to another. Working with over 1,000 subjects, divided in to 7 personality types, we tested 10 different persuasive technology strategies to create an optimal list of strategies for each.

“We compared this model of game design to the more common ‘one-size-fits-all’ and found that it could overcome some of the weaknesses of the monolithic model and achieve significant motivational change in more users.”

Finding a home at Dal

Before coming to Dalhousie, Dr. Orji considered a number of offers from other institutions and her interview here was the last one she attended.

“At that interview, I discovered a warm, supportive and inclusive environment, and I was pleased to experience wonderful interactions with the faculty and the students on the selection committee. That actually factored significantly into my decision to choose Dalhousie.

“Though I have only been here a short while, I am confident Dal is the best place for me to build my research lab.”