Hot Topic Q&A illustrationWhile the concept has existed since the mid-2000s, gender lens investing is experiencing a popularity boom in recent years. Gender lens investing is the practice of investing for financial return with a dual goal of benefitting women through improving economic opportunities and social well-being.

The reason for the rise of this business trend has been attributed to various factors including #MeToo and the release of data that no longer made the wage gap a subjective topic. For example, a 2017 study by Babson College showed that companies where the CEO is a woman only received 3 percent of the total venture capital dollars from 2011-2013 or $1.5 billion out of the total of $50.8 billion invested.

To dive a little deeper into this topic, Fox Focus met with Ellen Weber, assistant professor in Strategic Management and executive director of Temple University’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute (IEI) and Mid-Atlantic Diamond Ventures. Weber is an expert on topics including funding early-stage companies, entrepreneurial ecosystems and women’s entrepreneurship.

Q: Why do you think gender lens investing has become so important in today’s modern business environment?

A: When entrepreneurs sell their companies, many want to invest in startups in order to give back, and this results in a virtuous cycle. When that pool of exited entrepreneurs mostly consists of white men, males typically receive most of the funding, resulting in gaps in funding for women-funded companies. It is only in recent years that we are seeing successful women founders who have money to invest in startups. These days there are many more women entrepreneurs looking for funding and the number of investors has increased.

Q: What impact has this evolution had in improving and shaping global business practices?

A: There is newfound importance placed on the need to measure behaviors in order to change them. For example, in 2015, venture firm First Round Capital ran the data on its portfolio and found that companies with a female founder performed 63% better than investments with all-male founding teams. The cause for the better performance is attributed to diversity of thought and experience perspective.

Q: What is the impact of gender lens investing on culture?

A: Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. They seek to solve problems that they understand and experience. So, women entrepreneurs are often solving problems that men would not necessarily see.

In the Fox School community alone, there are dozens of examples of this. Emily Kight, the 2018 Social Impact winner of IEI’s Be Your Own Boss Bowl® (BYOBB®), a business plan competition, developed an in-home, non-invasive urine test that screens for ovarian cancer. In 2017, she was awarded second place for bioengineering a leave-in conditioner to lessen the effects of trichotillomania, a hair-pulling disorder. She was also awarded funding by the Lori Hermelin Bush Seed Fund.

The Lori Hermelin Bush Seed Fund supports women in entrepreneurship. The Fund provides seed funding ranging from $500-$10,000. Funds are provided with the purpose of supporting companies in proving their concept, and where the money will have a significant impact on the company’s ability to progress.

Q: How is Temple University helping to support women’s entrepreneurship?

A: One of the most exciting things is the ability to offer students and alumni the opportunity to flex their entrepreneurial muscles in a supportive environment with competitions and calls for submission, like the Lori Bush Seed Fund, the BYOBB®, and the Innovative Idea Competition.

There are also a host of women’s organizations for students to get involved in at the Fox School, including Women’s Work, Women Presidents’ Organization, Women’s Village and the Women’s Entrepreneurial Organization.

On a personal level and in classes like Empowering Women Through Entrepreneurship, I place an emphasis on what makes entrepreneurs more powerful. One of the ways to do that is to bring in entrepreneurs who are representative Temple’s student body. I want to show my female students that if they can see it, they can be it.

If you are a student who would like to get involved in entrepreneurship or women in business, feel free to contact iei@temple.edu.

This story was originally published in Fox Focus, the Fox School’s alumni magazine.

Ethical Technology illustrationIn the technology industry, the unending pursuit of the next big innovation leaves little room for ethical considerations about data privacy and evolves too quickly for any governing body to create and enforce regulations. For years, technologists have held firm in the belief that they do not need government intervention to regulate their actions, but in light of recent revelations that belief is starting to waver.

The complicated relationship between ethics, regulations and technology came to a head in 2018 thanks to Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. When the social network exposed the data of 87 million users to the Trump Campaign’s political consulting firm, consumers began to question whether or not they really had control over their personal information. In a survey conducted that year by Pew Research Center, roughly half of U.S. adults revealed that they do not trust the federal government or social media sites to protect their data. Now more than ever, the pressure is on policymakers to close the gap and regulate the industry. However, the question remains: can you enforce ethical behavior in tech?

Creating an Environment that Supports Ethical Behavior

Let’s start by looking at the workplace. For ethical decision-making to become a part of a company’s practice, there needs to be a cultural and organizational infrastructure in place to support it. Many believe that a c-suite position for ethics and integrity should exist within every organization, and a handful of companies already have that role in place. Leora Eisenstadt, assistant professor in the Department of Legal Studies at the Fox School, believes that it’s a step in the right direction, but for the position to be successful, it needs support from managers and employees at all levels.

“It’s not going to filter up to the chief integrity officer unless the people on the ground are asking the right questions,” says Eisenstadt. Encouraging employees to speak up and challenge their superiors when they sense an issue is crucial to implementing this type of change. “If that is not encouraged, you’re never going to hear it,” Eisenstadt says.

In addition to internal checks and balances, there also needs to be external regulations to hold companies accountable. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is currently preparing for what could be the most substantial penalty in its history for Facebook, but it’s hardly enough to have a significant impact on the company’s bottom line.

If the U.S.had a comprehensive policy akin to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Facebook would be liable for up to 4 percent of its annual global revenue, or $2.2 billion. According to Anthony Vance, director of the Center for Cyber Security at the Fox School, a penalty of that magnitude is the only thing that will get major corporations to pay attention, as it could have an actual effect on the company’s performance. “Right now, there is no law or major penalty,” Vance says. “So companies treat data as a resource to them; as their own asset that they can mine and resell, which is a huge privacy violation.”

The Role That Policy Can Play

There is hope yet, however, in the California Consumer Privacy Act, which was signed into law in 2018 and will go into effect in 2020. Inspired by GDPR, it will set the bar for online privacy in the U.S. “Now, there’s huge legislative pressure to enact some kind of federal regulation to basically enshrine ethical principles about privacy and law,” says Vance. “For the first time in history, tech companies are pushing the federal government to create a uniform policy.”  

Even with internal and external regulations in place, it’s also vital for us as consumers to play our part and pay attention. There will always be more powerful technological developments on the horizon and new dilemmas to face in the future. It’s not realistic to expect consumers to read through every line of every “Terms of Use” policy they see, but it’s important to be aware of the way a company operates. We have the power to vote leaders into political office that understand the industry and can fight to enact laws on our behalf. “That responsibility doesn’t just rest on technologists,” Vance says, “it rests on us as people.”

How to Be a Responsible Tech Consumer:

  • Install an Adblock extension in your browser if you want to prevent your data from being collected and tracked
  • Be aware that if you’re using a free service, you’re the product of that service, and limit the data you share
  • Find and support political leaders who are tech-savvy and share the same beliefs as you do about privacy and ethics laws  
  • Stay informed on recent events in the tech industry, especially for companies that provide a service you are actively using

This story was originally published in Fox Focus, the Fox School’s alumni magazine.

calculations on a computer screen

Each year, consumers create 16.3 zettabytes of informationenough to fill over 127 billion iPhones. Sorting through all this information is like trying to find a needle in a haystack the size of California.

Within these treasure troves of data are valuable insights waiting to be discovered. Data scientists use statistics, math, and information technology to sort through enormous datasets with millions of variables, looking for patterns. Yet combing through this information takes immense power, not to mention computer memory. So do they sort through it all?

That’s where people like Zhigen Zhao, associate professor of Statistical Science at the Fox School, come in.

Zhao and his statistician colleagues invent new ways to use statistics, overcome computation limitations, and see patterns through the noise. Their discoveries range from a newly patented methodology that enables users to analyze millions of data points in seconds to a new threshold for pinpointing statistical significance.

Deciphering Genetic Codes

Humans have 20,000 genes in our DNA. Much like data, decoding how each gene interacts with another can provide valuable insight, in this case into a person’s health. With over 190 million possible pairs, that’s a lot of variables to test.

“Years ago, 10,000 was considered a big data set, but not anymore,” says Zhao. When using standard algorithms like distance correlation, statisticians run into issues with computation speed, and the old algorithms can’t keep up with the large datasets available today.

Zhao and his colleagues devised a methodology that can analyze all of these variables in seconds. “Our method only takes two-tenths of a second to finish this kind of calculation,” says Zhao. His computer would crash when using older algorithm to analyze a dataset of that size.

“People’s health can depend on a specific combination of their genes,” says Zhao. This revolutionary methodology, which was recently approved for a patent, can identify certain combinations of genes that may help doctors understand medical issues ranging from heart disease and Alzheimer’s to obesity and alcoholism.

Discovering Differences in Education

With millions of pieces of information, statisticians and data scientists often grapple with the problem of false discoveries—inferring a pattern that is not truly significant. Statisticians try to account for these false discoveries, but this may lead to a less complete picture of the data.

Zhao and his colleagues created a new algorithm to reduce the number of false discoveries while keeping more pertinent patterns than other methods. Zhao’s team applied this algorithm to school districts in California, analyzing standardized test scores of students from over 4,000 elementary schools.

The researchers compared pass rates from two groups of students, the socioeconomically advantaged and the socioeconomically disadvantaged. Normally, the advantaged students will have higher scores than their disadvantaged counterparts. However, Zhao used his algorithm to identify schools that have unusually small or unusually large differences between the two populations—where the disadvantaged students were either significantly underperforming or overperforming in statewide math tests.

Their new algorithm found more schools whose populations have significant differences in test scores, providing a more complete understanding of the dataset. “The main idea for this method is to incorporate school district information to get a new threshold,” says Zhao. “The standard method, which doesn’t include this information, can be either overly conservative or overly liberal.” This kind of refined analysis can help district and state policymakers to reallocate resources to support underperforming schools or to imitate overperforming schools.

From education to healthcare and everything in between, Zhao and his fellow statisticians sort through enormous datasets, finding new ways to compute that better our everyday lives.

This story was originally published in On the Verge, the Fox School’s flagship research magazine. For more stories, visit www.fox.temple.edu/ontheverge.

Navigation app on smartphone

As consumers, we have said goodbye to hailing taxi cabs in the pouring rain. We have stopped stressing about public transit schedules and delays. Some of us have even found alternative solutions to a costly ambulance ride.

Instead, we just get an Uber.

Ride-sharing platforms like Uber and Lyft are one of the biggest ways people participate in what is known as the “sharing economy,” through which individuals share goods, like homes and condos on Airbnb and VRBO, or services, like labor and freelance work on TaskRabbit and Upwork.

For many, participating in the sharing economy as a consumer is freeing. But how have the suppliers—those who own cars or homes—been affected in the last decade?

Jing Gong, assistant professor of Management Information Systems at the Fox School, sought out the answer.

Consumer or consumed?

Using Uber as an example, Gong could see two sides of the same coin. On one hand, the demand side, consumers who use Uber might be more willing to give up their cars in favor of the convenience of temporary ownership, what she called the “cannibalization effect.”

On the supply side, however, Gong could also see that providers may have an incentive as well. Drivers—or those desiring to be drivers—may actually invest in their cars in order to capitalize on the income available in the sharing economy.

To discover the answer, Gong and her co-authors—Brad Greenwood, associate professor of Information and Decision Sciences at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, and Yiping Song, associate professor of Marketing at Fudan University’s School of Management—investigated Uber’s entry into different cities in China. Using a unique dataset of new personal vehicle registrations between 2010 and 2015, Gong and her colleagues analyzed new car purchases compared to Uber’s introduction to the country starting in 2013.

Because Uber came to different Chinese cities at different times, the research team was able to use a statistical technique called difference in differences, which mimics a lab experiment, to compare groups classified as controlled or treated. As the platform rolled out, the team used variables in both geography and time to understand Uber’s effects compared to the control cities.

In the paper, “Uber Might Buy Me a Mercedes Benz: An Empirical Investigation of the Sharing Economy and Durable Goods Purchase,” the researchers found that both riders and drivers have become consumers.

“The consumption of Uber needs to be satisfied by more cars being available,” says Gong. “As more people are giving up on public transportation or car ownership, others are seeing the opportunity of becoming a driver, which in return calls for an increase in car sales and trade-ins.”

Entrepreneurs without red tape

The sharing economy has made way for entrepreneurs, sans the red tape.

Gong’s study found that Uber’s arrival to a city was correlated with an increase in new vehicle ownership—about eight percent on average. The researchers estimated that roughly 16 percent of new owners were purchasing their cars in order to become Uber drivers.

The effects were varied when the researchers analyzed key conditions. First, Uber had a stronger effect on the sale of smaller cars than larger cars, with owners placing a high premium on features like fuel efficiency. Second, women were less affected by Uber’s entry into a marketplace, but still experienced a significant increase in car ownership. Finally, young people were more significantly affected, given their higher likelihood to drive for ride-sharing platforms, change jobs, and have more volatile income.

Now, having a car or a home has allowed owners to see an opportunity for financial gain. For those who are unemployed or underemployed, ride-sharing has given them the tools and flexibility of a consistent income.

Effects from Detroit to D.C.

In this study, the researchers disprove a popular myth that Uber’s arrival has people fleeing car ownership. Knowing that buyers are now looking to purchase goods specifically for participating in the sharing economy, how should manufacturers react?

“In order for drivers to stay current while being cost-efficient, they are paying attention to the type of cars they are buying,” says Gong. “Whether it is for style or fuel economy, manufacturers are willing to market specific vehicles in order to draw in drivers.”

With Uber and other platforms, workers are bypassing the formalities of employment regulations. While lawmakers have highly regulated incumbents in the industries, like taxi companies and professional car services, startups have not had to contend with such high obstacles.

“Policymakers are having to reconsider whether this business model can sustain itself without intervention,” says Gong. She suggests lawmakers be thoughtful about reducing regulations on these established industry players to provide a level playing field.

A New Frontier

It is evident that platforms like Uber have changed the economic game faster than industries can keep up.

“The sharing economy is changing the landscape because it’s consumer to consumer,” says Gong. “The dynamics are different because the drivers are consumers of cars but the riders are also consumers of cars. With the manufacturers in the mix, there are more players.”

This research, the first of its kind to analyze the impact of the ridesharing economy on car owners, can provide insights to industries across the sharing economy. The introduction of Airbnb, for example, could encourage more homeownership for those looking to make money in new hot rental markets. Manufacturers of these goods will need to understand, build for, and market to these new customers.

Powered by new technologies and an entrepreneurial spirit, the sharing economy will continue to grow in both importance and prevalence. Yet, the question remains:

Is a new car—and gig—in your future?

This story was originally published in On the Verge, the Fox School’s flagship research magazine. For more stories, visit www.fox.temple.edu/ontheverge.

Social consciousness, or the idea that people should be aware of problems both locally and far beyond their own experiences, has existed for much longer than companies led by Fox School of Business alumni like when honeygrow founder and CEO Justin Rosenberg, MBA ‘09, decided to use locally-sourced vegetables or United By Blue started hauling waste out of East Coast waterways. Social enterprise, a modern twist on this socially conscious concept, arrived at the forefront of 21st-century business.

At the Fox School, entrepreneurs are baking in the social enterprise section of their business plan well before they leave campus. And because the Fox School has so many innovative, socially-conscious students and alumni, here are a few across various industries that deserve the spotlight.

Performance Adejayan, Founder & CEO of Perade

Performance Adejayan
Photo by Performance Adejayan

Performance Adejayan, a current International Business Administration major, is passionate about helping her fellow Nigerian-Americans retain their culture and pride. She has channeled that passion into creating a clothing line called Perade. The idea for Perade was born from a simple question Adejayan asked herself: “Why not turn my passion into a business?”

She felt starting a clothing line that reflected her personal identity would be the perfect solution. Unlike the appropriated “tribal print” that can be found at many mainstream retailers, the brand mixes “African prints with western silhouettes” to transport Nigerian culture into wearable pieces for all. By going straight to the source and receiving products from Nigeria, she is giving back to her home and supporting the global economy.

At this stage in her entrepreneurial journey, Adejayan is currently working on spreading the word about Perade. She is building a team of brand ambassadors and influencers to post about and wear her products.

Anthony Copeman, Founder of Financial Lituation & $hares

Anthony Copeman
Photo by Joe V. Labolito

At the heart of every one of Anthony Copeman’s ventures is a desire to provide his generation with the tools they need to succeed financially. Since he was a student studying accounting, Copeman, BBA ’14, has founded a nonprofit (Backyard Business) and a financial coaching program (Financial Lituation), began working for the City of Philadelphia and launched an animated financial literacy YouTube series called $hares.

Both Financial Lituation and $hares help users build toward financial freedom through advice and education on financial literacy in an accessible way, especially for minorities and other disenfranchised groups.

Looking to the future, Copeman is committed to scaling the impact of his various projects,  measuring the results, and trying new things. “I am constantly inspired by innovation and creativity. I’m always asking myself, ‘how can I leverage my passion and put my own creative spin on it?’”

Thierno Diallo, Founder & CEO of Sontefa Energy

According to the International Energy Agency, in Sub-Saharan Africa, over 600 million

Thierno Diallo
Photo by Joe V. Labolito

people have never had access to electricity. In Guinea, the home country of Thierno Diallo, BBA ’17, only 53% of urban areas and 11% of rural areas had access to electricity, leaving 8.7 million people without it. With Sontefa Energy, Diallo wants to change those statistics.

“I believe that providing electricity to the people of Guinea, as well as to Africa as a whole, will be the greatest thing that I can ever accomplish,” Diallo says. “The myriad of cultures that are found in my country have always emphasized the importance of helping others.”

The company, whose mission is to empower the future of Africa with green energy, is currently focused on raising capital and is in the process of developing partnerships with solar panel suppliers in the U.S. and overseas. Diallo has developed an engineering team for installment and services, as well as a sales team.

David Ettorre, Founder & CEO of Osprey Drone Services

David Ettorre
Photo by David Ettorre

After graduating from the Strategic Management Entrepreneurship program in 2015, David Ettorre looked to combine the skills he knew he had in order to make an impact on the business world and the environment. He had business acumen, loved working outside and decided to mine the potential of drone technology to shape his career.

“With Osprey Drone Services, me and my team do not just show up with and play with drones. We use technology to solve industry problems,” Ettorre says. Leveraging the accessibility and data collection properties of drones, they offer customers a combination of preventive and predictive maintenance with industrial asset inspection.

Whether that means sending a drone 400 feet in the air to find out if an endangered species of bird has built a nest at the top of a tree or assessing the lifecycle of a wind turbine, the company helps wildlife conservation and their client’s bottom line.

Jen Singley, Keller Williams Philadelphia

Jeniffer Singley
Photo by Joe V. Labolito

Jen Singley, BBA ’13, has been interested in environmentalism since she was a child. For her, it was natural to marry real estate and sustainability. Singley is a real estate agent with Keller Williams and helps first-time home buyers navigate what can feel like an intimidating process. To offer this support, in addition to her day job, Singley hosts first-time buyer workshops in different neighborhoods around the city.

Singley also works with Women for a Sustainable Philadelphia, a forum for encouraging women to connect around a passion for positively impacting the current and future environmental, social and economic resilience of the Greater Philadelphia region.

In an effort to infuse elements of sustainability into her career, Singley offers free recycling bins for clients and organize cleanups in client neighborhoods. “No matter what I am doing for work, I always want to link it to helping Philadelphia and making it a more sustainable, greener place to live,” Singley says.

All of these “extracurriculars” support Singley’s mission to educate herself and teach others about real estate, sustainability and giving back to the City of Brotherly Love.                        

This story was originally published in Fox Focus, the Fox School’s alumni magazine.

Doctor holding clipboard

Sometimes ideas for academic research can come from the unlikeliest of places. Like out of your earbuds.

Hilal Atasoy, assistant professor in the Department of Accounting at the Fox School, was hardly expecting to discover a subject that would lead to years of study while listening to a podcast, but that is exactly what happened.

“I was listening to a story about a cancer patient,” says Atasoy. In addition to being physically and emotionally difficult, having cancer can be costly. The patient explained that during her treatment she had moved and had to change hospitals and doctors several times because of her relocation and other reasons.

“She was saying how difficult it was to keep transferring her tests, results, procedures, and other records. She had to go through this ordeal again and again,” recalls Atasoy. Finally, the patient landed at a hospital with a good electronic health records (EHR) system, and she didn’t need to go to any extra trouble or expense anymore.

That got Atasoy thinking. Since the HITECH Act of 2009 made the migration of patient information from paper files to electronic health records mandatory, many studies have investigated whether this shift actually benefits hospitals, as electronic health records systems are costly to implement.

The results of previous research, particularly around healthcare costs, have been inconclusive. Studies point to the likelihood that costs actually go up—not down—as electronic health records systems are put into practice, at least for the individual hospital in question. But Atasoy’s research looks beyond the adopting hospital to the region surrounding it. “The question we’re asking in the study is whether the impacts of the electronic health records go beyond the adopting hospital.”

It’s common for someone to have a dermatologist at one hospital, get a mammogram at a different hospital, and see a primary care doctor affiliated with a yet a third institution, especially if that person lives in a city. When you factor in the costs at not only the individual hospital that adopted EHRs but also the costs at surrounding hospitals where there are shared patients, Atasoy has found that there is a marked cost-saving benefit after all. Estimates suggest that if one hospital in each area adopts an EHR system, it would add up to a net reduction of $18 billion in healthcare costs nationwide.

To conduct her research, Atasoy relied on several data sets. “We tracked information about the adoption of electronic health records systems at almost all the hospitals in the U.S. from 1998 to 2012,” she says. She also used Medicare data, census data, and HIMSS data (a dataset that comprises information about EHR use across the country). Atasoy and her team used statistical analysis software to interpret the numbers and come to their conclusions about the costs and benefits of EHR beyond the walls of any one hospital. Her research was published last year in the journal Management Science.

Atasoy notes that implications for her research extend beyond the healthcare sector. “It shows the importance of connections across different organizations. Businesses might be connected, for example, through shared customers,” she says. “Obviously, the firms are focused on their customers and their purchases and all the information they have on their customers right within their business, but there are many organizations that share customers or share suppliers. They have these connections.”

Her work on hospital-level data led into her current research, which focuses on patient-level data and seeks to identify the cost and quality of care benefits that could come with the widespread sharing of EHR between health institutions. “We’ve learned that only 20 percent of doctors use electronic health records, and what we’ve seen suggests that there are significant benefits to patients when doctors do use them,” says Atasoy. This seems to be especially true for patients living with chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.

Atasoy hopes her research will help spark a discussion about the value of hassle-free information reciprocity at hospitals, something that, on a policy level, she believes needs to be incentivized. Just as she began to look at the bigger picture, viewing hospitals regionally as a group and not individually, viewing a patient’s multi-year health journey and not just a single procedure, she hopes hospital administrators will zoom out, too.

“One big problem with healthcare in the United States is that it’s very fragmented,” says Atasoy. Her work reveals that a hospital isn’t an island and that the free flow of information will ultimately benefit everyone’s bottom line.

This story was originally published in On the Verge, the Fox School’s flagship research magazine. For more stories, visit www.fox.temple.edu/ontheverge.

Professors and student standing together
Daniel Isaacs, legal studies professor, Avner Ronen, civil and environmental engineering assistant professor and Vidya Sabbella, a current MBA student
By Joseph V. Labolito

The  Fox School is focused on making a positive impact on its students, community and the global business world. This focus can be seen as a through line across much of the school’s research, including the current interdisciplinary industrial ecology project by Daniel Isaacs, legal studies professor, Avner Ronen, civil and environmental engineering assistant professor and Vidya Sabbella, a current MBA student.

The project works to address a combination of interconnected desired outcomes that are global in scale and go beyond creating a sustainable supply of lithium. A primary goal of the team is to illustrate a practical application of industrial ecology for business systems in order to reduce wastes and serve as a basis for innovation and intergenerational justice.

“Business, technology, science and education should not be siloed. With broader educational opportunities like this one, environmental issues can be the drivers of innovation,” says Isaacs. “Students and leaders alike need to start thinking about business in terms of what their obligations to future generations should be.”

The Interdisciplinary Dream Team

Dan Isaacs, director of the Global MBA program, teaches business ethics, sustainability in business, corporate governance and more at the undergraduate and graduate levels. His research seeks to align economic incentives with ethical behavior.

Professors and student in the lab
By Joseph V. Labolito

Dr. Avner Ronen is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Temple University. His research interests include water and wastewater treatment, membrane separation process, nutrient recovery from wastewater and more.

Vidya Sabbella is currently pursuing an MBA in health sector management. She spent the majority of her career working as a pharmacist in India. When she moved to the U.S. and spent time volunteering at local hospitals, she became determined to pursue a career where she could help ensure efficient management practices for healthcare institutions.

They are working together in order to uncover whether or not the use of desalination, or the process that takes away mineral components from saline water, can replace traditional, more environmentally impactful methods of extracting lithium. This collaboration of business and science sets a new standard for how business schools can think about the future of the industry and the role that sustainability can play within it.

The Role of Lithium in the Modern World

Lithium is and will continue to be an invaluable resource for the U.S. and beyond. According to sources such a Mining.com and Bloomberg, lithium demand is expected to increase by 650% by 2027 from companies that produce batteries to power electric cars, laptops and other high-tech devices. 

But why should society rethink the ways it is currently extracting lithium? Traditional lithium extraction methods have significant environmental impacts, such as water pollution and depletion, soil damage and air contamination. In contrast, lithium recovery from seawater has a negligible impact and uses naturally occurring resources. It also makes good business sense, as it would be more cost effective and energy-efficient for organizations that use lithium as part of their manufacturing processes.

Where Chemistry and Market Research Meet

If Ronen and Sabbella’s work on the chemistry side of the project is successful, the team will have created a new, sustainable method of extracting a resource whose value will only increase over time.  

From there, Dan Isaacs and the Fox School will assist with the business side of the project, helping to commercialize lithium desalination. Together, Isaacs and Sabbella will conduct market analysis and develop a business plan.

The exercise presents a unique opportunity for Sabbella to combine her scientific past with her future in business. “Being a pharmacist and MBA candidate, I believe this is a perfect blend of my background qualifications and experience and my future as MBA graduate,” Sabbella says. “It’s a great opportunity to apply the concepts that I am learning every day at the Fox School to develop a business model. By working in the lab, I have a chance to utilize my chemistry knowledge.”

This story was originally published in Fox Focus, the Fox School’s alumni magazine.

mosquito in high definitionVictor H. Gutierrez-Velez never expected his work to lead him to the topic of public health. His expertise lies in remote sensing science, analyzing data such as satellite images. “Every day, numerous satellite images are taken,” says Gutierrez-Velez. And the information drawn from these images has both academic and commercial applications.

For example, satellite images can help prescribe management, fertilization, irrigation, and other activities in precision agriculture, according to Gutierrez-Velez. They can help the insurance industry assess risks related to flooding or other natural disasters, or to verify crop insurance complains. Satellite imagery can allow energy companies to pinpoint the ideal location for solar panels. And this kind of data, it turns out, can even come in handy when it comes to fighting certain diseases.

To that end, partnering with colleagues with expertise in biology and public health, Gutierrez-Velez, assistant professor in the College of Liberal Arts, has recently been drawn to an unlikely research subject: mosquitoes. Specifically, the tiger mosquito (scientific name: aedes albopictus). What’s so interesting about this tiny, blood-sucking bug?

“It’s worrisome. They can spread the Zika virus and other dangerous diseases,” says Gutierrez-Velez.

In 2016 when the Zika pandemic caught his interest, mosquitoes dominated the headlines. Once thought to be limited to tropical and subtropical regions, the tiger mosquito had expanded its territory into most continents. Climate change plays a role, but these mosquitoes are also particularly aggressive. They’re among the 100 most invasive species in the world. In the 1980s, they were first spotted in the U.S. in Texas. Today, they reach as far north as Connecticut. Their presence in Pennsylvania remains an ongoing public health concern.  

For his project, a recipient of the Office for the Vice President of Research‘s Targeted Grant Program and supported by the Data Science Institute housed at the Fox School, Gutierrez-Velez decided to look at multiple datasets, including climate data, information gathered from sampling for the presence of the tiger mosquito, land cover data, and census information. Gutierrez-Velez believes that with these and other datasets as inputs, machine learning and advanced algorithms can be used to predict the locations of tiger mosquito populations in advance of the season.

One of the most interesting possible findings of this research is that the tiger mosquito is less of a rural dweller than previously thought. “What we’re finding contradicts conventional wisdom about where these mosquitoes live. They are becoming domesticated animals. They prefer to be where lots of humans are living closely together—in cities. Because they love our blood,” says Gutierrez-Velez.

Scientific curiosity led Gutierrez-Velez to census data, which is not necessarily an obvious source of information to predict the presence or absence of a small flying bug. “If they feed on humans, human behavior should have something to do with it,” he says. And it does seem like including this data makes for a more accurate prediction about where the mosquitoes will go next.

Gutierrez-Velez’s ultimate goal for the project is to perfect a reliable working model that can be used to predict the upcoming mosquito season. Knowing that a particularly bad mosquito season is about to start will give officials the opportunity to plan in advance.

For example, the most affected areas can be targeted for treatment before the problem becomes unmanageable. Residents could be strongly cautioned in advance of the season to deal with housing-related conditions, such as places that collect standing water, which act as mosquito breeding areas. In the event that mosquitoes are spreading Zika or another virus, these protections could even save lives.

“There’s a lot we can do if we have a model that can say, ‘Hey, it’s going to be a bad year for mosquitoes, get ready,’” says Gutierrez-Velez.

This story was originally published in On the Verge, the Fox School’s flagship research magazine. For more stories, visit www.fox.temple.edu/ontheverge.

In the Winter 2018 issue of Fox Focus, readers were introduced to a group of Fox students who were among the first to participate in the school’s new and improved Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) Core Curriculum. The curriculum was redesigned with innovation in mind and focuses on topics such as critical thinking, communication and quantitative reasoning skills.

Fox undergraduate students use these skills every day. The editorial team checked in with Nasir Mack, Meredith Orme and Robert Zurzolo to see what has changed for each of them in the last year.

Nasir Mack
Photo by Joseph V. Labolito

Nasir Mack, a business management major, has taken on more leadership roles in his extracurricular activities. He is now the strategic partnership coordinator of the Fox Student Philanthropic Society, and he is involved with the Dean’s Student Advisory Council, which is a diverse group of students working shape the school’s culture. He is also starting to explore whether he wants to major or minor in something that will build upon his creative, artistic side, such as Marketing.

“Last year, I was constantly grinding away and pushing for more and more. Now that I am more comfortable in myself and my education, I am learning to stride and pace myself,” Mack says.

Meredith Orme
Photo by Joseph V. Labolito

Meredith Orme, now double majoring in accounting and legal studies, is involved with student professional organizations (SPOs) on campus and is an intern for the Philadelphia Flyers. Since her freshman year, Orme discovered that she is interested in a career in forensic accounting.

“While my classes have taught me a lot, I think the most important skill I have learned is how to present myself,” Orme says. “I am much more sure of myself and confident in who I am and what I want. I am not only more confident in how I present myself, but in my set of skills. I’ve also learned how to communicate effectively and how to be much more straightforward.”

Robert Zurzolo
Photo by Joseph V. Labolito

Robert Zurzolo, after changing his major a few times over the course of the last year, decided on double majoring in finance and accounting in order to pursue a career in investment banking or private equity. Currently, Zurzolo is studying abroad at Temple University’s campus in Rome, Italy. In addition to attending classes and exploring Europe, he has gotten back to his hobby of playing soccer.

“I feel that I have grown as a student; I take more pride in my assignments,” he says. “During my time abroad I have become more appreciative of the opportunities that I have been given, both here and back at home, and it has also reaffirmed my desire to travel as much as possible in the future.”

This story was originally published in Fox Focus, the Fox School’s alumni magazine.

Student In Class on Laptop

A personalized touch can make all the difference.

When you log into Amazon, Netflix, or Facebook, one of the first things you see are recommendations for products, shows, or friends you may know—all based on things you have already bought, watched, or liked.

Recommender systems have eliminated the time-consuming effort of understanding and anticipating what exactly users want, sometimes before they know they want it. Using vast collections of detailed data points, data scientists can create a trail of digital breadcrumbs, which follows Internet users as each sale, search, and interaction becomes part of an algorithm for new suggestions. These platforms can predict and encourage your next shopping sprees, binges, and bucket lists.

In the private sector, companies have long been using technology-enhanced learning in order to proactively suggest and anticipate their consumers’ choices. But how can these mechanisms be most effectively applied to academia?

“We have to learn something new every day,” says Dr. Konstantin Bauman, assistant professor in the Management Information Systems (MIS) Department at the Fox School of Business. “With the traditional path, we go to university, take some courses, meet with the instructor once a week, and go to lectures. But today, there are many different types of tools and materials available online that are able to educate large groups in a personalized and direct way.”

Educational companies like Coursera, Lynda.com and the Khan Academy already use recommender systems to suggest courses their users may like, based on their history. Bauman, however, wanted to know whether personalized e-learning can help students struggling to comprehend a particular subject.

“Education is one important application of recommender systems for society to target materials for specific learning paths,” says Bauman.

Bauman, along with co-author Alexander Tuzhilin of New York University’s Stern School of Business, examined the personalized e-learning systems approach with the help of a tuition-free online university. By using curricula from 42 classes and test results from 910 students over three semesters, the researchers created a system to pinpoint—and address—specific areas within a student’s comprehension that needed improvement.

The team reported their findings in the paper, “Recommending Remedial Learning Materials to Students by Filling Their Knowledge Gaps,” which was published in MIS Quarterly in 2018.

In this real-life experiment throughout the 2014-2015 academic year, Bauman’s team identified where students’ knowledge waned and provided materials to supplement these gaps. “Instead of revising the entire lesson, we provided catered lessons to fill those gaps,” says Bauman.

The students had diverse backgrounds, from both the United States and developing countries, and studied in a variety of programs, from business to computer science to art history. The researchers split the students into three groups: a control group that received no recommendations, a group that received non-personalized recommendations, and a group that received recommendations tailored to the individual student.

Bauman and his team created taxonomies that mapped all the topics covered within a specific course, built a library of remedial learning materials, and matched test questions with course topics. After analyzing test scores, the researchers identified the students’ weaknesses. The students in the non-personalized group received generic recommendations for the course, while students in the personalized group received remedial materials for specific topics that were identified via testing.

“First, we showed that most of the students who received our recommendations found them relevant and helpful,” says Bauman. Second, the “average” students, who received a test score between 70 and 90 in previously taken courses, were most affected by personalized recommendations. “These students improved their performance on the final exams significantly more, in comparison to their prior performance before they received personalized recommendations than the students from the control group.” For this subset of students, the personalized group received an average grade of 83.22 in their final exams, while the control group scored an average of 79.39.

The study received limited interactions with students who were classified as “falling behind” (those whose previous grade averages were below 70) as only six students who received personalized recommendations actually clicked on the materials. Similarly, students who were “excellent” (with average grades above 90) were less likely to need remedial lessons.

Bauman found that, by determining specific materials needed to supplement their understanding, students saved time and energy in preparation for their exams.

“Learning systems have the capability of picking up patterns and behaviors that can clearly predict necessary methods that are worthwhile and timely,” says Bauman. For students and professors, time that may be used to teach a specific lesson can be accomplished through recommender systems, saving more time for interactions that encourage new ideas and understandings.

One thing is for sure—when it’s time to come back for more, a new suggestion will be waiting.

This story was originally published in On the Verge, the Fox School’s flagship research magazine. For more stories, visit www.fox.temple.edu/ontheverge.

John Milligan
Photo by Joseph V. Labolito

 

In the early ’80s, John Milligan, BBA ’75, faced a choice: remain in a dead-end job or set out on his own. Milligan decided to move on, build his own diverse accounting firm and create opportunities for minorities. over 30 years later, his business Milligan & Company LLC is the largest minority-owned CPA firm in the Philadelphia region and a champion for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

As a teen in Norristown, PA, Milligan never thought about owning a business or attending college. He dropped out of high school after 10th grade and joined the Navy, serving for four years. After two years of junior college in California, Milligan returned to the Philadelphia area. On the recommendation of a friend, he enrolled at Temple University.

Being one of the few students of color in his classes, he felt out of place at school but he received support and guidance from his professors. They encouraged him to consider public accounting, connected him with employers and coached him through interviews. Milligan graduated magna cum laude with an offer from Coopers & Lybrand, the largest accounting firm in the city at that time.

Milligan left Coopers & Lybrand after nine years when it became apparent that leadership was not ready to make an African American a partner at the firm. However, his experiences there were formative. Not only did he learn the basics of public accounting and auditing, but he also learned about entrepreneurship and running small businesses.

“I had a mentor [Bruce Cohen] at Coopers & Lybrand who really helped me focus not only on becoming a good auditor but also being a good entrepreneur,” says Milligan. “So when I made my decision to leave, that experience and that mentoring really helped me prepare to start my own CPA firm.”

With his staffing choices, business practices and outside endeavors, Milligan has surpassed his initial goal to establish a more diverse accounting firm. Today, approximately 50 percent of Milligan & Company’s employees are minorities and 75 percent of the employees are women. He has made a commitment to support minority-owned businesses in his personal and professional life.  

One of the most important decisions he made was to get involved in government programs for small businesses and work with government agencies. Milligan & Company was, for a number of years, a member of the Small Business Administration’s 8(A) Business Development Program. This program offers a broad scope of assistance to firms that are owned and controlled at least 51 percent by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. After outgrowing the program, Milligan’s company now provides assistance to other businesses seeking 8(A) certification.

Milligan & Company managed the Philadelphia Minority Business Development Center for eighteen years. “That was very rewarding,” he says. “We helped literally hundreds of businesses with their business and marketing plans, and get bank loans.”

Milligan also created a nonprofit, the Greater Philadelphia Minority Business Strategic Alliance (GPMBA), a network of twenty organizations dedicated to promoting the growth of minority business enterprises with shared resources and collaboration. While GPMBA is no longer operational, one of their most important partnerships remains; Milligan sponsors SCORE, a network of expert business mentors, by providing them with office space in Center City.

Milligan’s interest in community service isn’t limited to his work with entrepreneurs and small businesses. He has served on the boards of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Norristown Area School District Education Foundation, and Montgomery Hospital in Norristown. He is currently the president of the Greater Norristown NAACP. The Fox School Department of Accounting will honor John Milligan with the Community Service Award at the 2019 Accounting Achievement Awards.

“It’s rewarding to be able to have an impact on people and their lives and know somehow you helped other people reach their full potential.”

This story was originally published in Fox Focus, the Fox School’s alumni magazine.

Kuang-Yao Lee, assistant professor of statistical science at the Fox School

More than 15 million adults struggle with alcohol addiction. In fact, according to the CDC, one in ten deaths of working-age adults in America is linked to alcohol. That’s one reason data on alcohol use has been chosen by researchers for study from the enormous data set from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ ambitious Million Veteran Program (MVP). The VA intends as the project’s name states, to gather data on an astonishing one million service members.

Kuang-Yao Lee, assistant professor of statistical science at the Fox School, sees a world of potential new knowledge in this vast cache of data. This is particularly true of alcohol use because the data from the MVP is longitudinal, which means the same measurements are tracked over time. Alongside the support from the VA, Lee’s project received funding through from Office for the Vice President of Research at Temple University.

Volunteers in the MVP each submit blood samples as well as health surveys, amassing a dataset that comprises both genetic data and behavioral patterns. Beginning in 2016 when he was a researcher at Yale University, Lee and his colleagues have been using this information-rich resource to search for the specific combination of genes that correspond to alcohol and other substance use.

“Previous studies have suggested [these genes exist], but mostly were only limited to small scales or restricted conditions,” says Lee. “We want to use statistical models to find out if this is really a valid assumption. Our results so far suggest a very strong association.”

While ample electronic health records and genetic data have long been available to researchers, only recently has the efficient computing power become available to slice and dice the information into accurate, usable new insights and discoveries. More sophisticated algorithms combined with larger-than-ever computer storage capacity, as well as parallel computation techniques, allow today’s researchers to make meaning from a huge amount of complex data.

How huge? “Depending on the facility, the whole genome sequencing [for one person] can produce hundreds of millions of variants,” says Lee. Questionnaires allow researchers to gather large amounts of information about each subject every time they are administered. Multiply that by one million veterans. “We’re talking about not just billions, but millions of millions of points of data,” he says.

Data with this level of complexity can lead to findings that are more nuanced and reliable than in the past. Previously statistics sometimes led to oversimplified and other not-quite-right conclusions. We’ve all heard the old axiom, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But as so-called big data increases in scope and complexity and the tools used to analyze this data become more sophisticated, statistics are becoming more honest than ever before. From projects such as the Million Veteran Program and other similarly vast datasets, new genetic truths may ultimately emerge.

There are many possible real-world applications for this research. For one thing, determining which specific genes are linked with alcohol and other substance abuse could lead to new and better medicines and treatments for the very veterans who have volunteered their most sensitive personal information for this work. A dialed-in genetic profile that indicates a vulnerability for substance abuse could be used to screen kids and even adults while there is still time for effective early interventions that can keep them on a healthy path. Given the current public health crisis around opioids, alcohol, and other substance use, a breakthrough of this kind could have far-reaching benefits.

Lee says that the knowledge gleaned from the Million Veteran Program about substance abuse may lead to similar projects that could help solve other vexing behavioral, health, and genetic puzzles. He also notes that the innovative statistical models and tools he’s used in this research could be applied in myriad ways to other complex datasets.

For example, online shopping platforms can easily observe huge amounts of individual consumers and, at the same time, collect data across large numbers of variables. “One of the core problems in business analytics is to use statistical models to study the inter-dependency between observed variables, for example, the dependency between decision making and consumer behavior,” Lee says.

“There are a surprising number of similarities between genomics and online shopping.”

This story was originally published in On the Verge, the Fox School’s flagship research magazine. For more stories, visit www.fox.temple.edu/ontheverge.

A Class To Look Forward To

April 23, 2019 //
Photo by Ashley Smith of Wide Eyed Studios

The bell rings each day at 3:10 p.m. and Cameron Johnson leaves school for the class she looks forward to the most.

Over the course of her day at the Freire Charter School on Chestnut Street in Center City, the 17-year-old high school junior goes to math, biology, English, Spanish and civics classes. They are good classes. But she leaves school for one more class each day.

“This class is about teaching us to think needfully and to try to make things different on a daily basis,” Cameron says. “It’s about trying to create new ideas instead of thinking, ‘I can’t do this.’”

She takes the trolley to 15th Street, hops on the Broad Street Line, rides the train to the Cecil B. Moore station and walks to the Fox School. It is a 25 to 40 minute journey that ends when she sits down with a handful of other students in the Creativity and Innovation class taught by Michelle Histand, assistant director of strategic management and experiential learning at the Fox School.

Twice a week, she and 14 students from Freire and TECH Freire Charter School, on the 2200 block of North Broad Street, join a dozen students from Temple, where they are tasked with identifying a problem, creating a solution and planning how to implement that solution. The class is a joint venture put together by the Fox School and the Freire Foundation, which runs several charter schools in the Philadelphia region.

The idea for the class started with a conversation between Debbie Campbell, senior vice dean at the Fox School, and Hilda Bacon, director of community partnerships and engagement at Build the Future Education Collaborative. The collaborative is a nonprofit organization aimed at building partnerships to enhance education opportunities at the Freire schools. Campbell and Bacon wanted to create a class that would give the Freire students the tools and confidence to succeed in college, and train the Temple students to be mentors and leaders.

Photo by Ashley Smith of Wide Eyed Studios

“It is an opportunity at a local, well-known university,” Bacon says. “It is a comfortable situation and Temple is potentially accessible for most kids—a chance to give them the experience of what it is to be in school, to be in a college.”

Histand’s classes are hands-on and very team oriented. “This class is a chance for Temple students to put themselves in a leadership position, share their experience and guide and give feedback to their mentees,” Histand says. For the Freire students, it is a chance to get started in higher education. “When you put someone in that next level up, they have to perform at that next level up.”

The students are divided into pairs of mentors and mentees. Each team is working on a project together. One team is attempting to find a solution for the dearth of affordable, healthy food choices in North Philadelphia. Another team is designing an app that serves as an impartial local elections guide.

“If I had a class like this before I came to Temple, I would have been a lot more informed and not so unsure at the beginning,” Temple junior Jack Oatts, BBA ’20, says.

To get into the class, the Temple students had to write a letter to Histand, explaining why they wanted to be a mentor. The Freire students wrote an application and went through an interview process before being admitted to the program.

To enhance the course further, Campbell and Bacon are looking at adding several events, including a trip to a Philadelphia Phillies game and possibly visiting the rail park or a corporate partner. In April, Temple alumni and noted entrepreneur Adam Lyons, BBA ’09, was the first of what has evolved into a series of engaging guest speakers.

Campbell and Bacon envision growing the program. For Campbell, that means making the class, and possibly other general education classes, available to more high schools and more students. Bacon would also like to see similar programs across other schools in Philadelphia.

“This is about doing something for the community, for the city, for these kids,” Campbell says. “It is like Russell Conwell said, you have acres of diamonds in your backyard, you just have to find them. And we have all these schools in our backyard like Freire.”

For more stories and news, follow the Fox School on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

When they met as freshmen in Hardwick Hall, Khadijah “Kay” Robinson, BBA ’04, and Kiana “Kay” Muhly, BBA ’03, had no way of knowing that they would grow and flourish as best friends and business partners.

Photo by Kay & Kay Group

During their time at the Fox School, they honed their skills, Kiana in accounting and Khadijah in marketing and entrepreneurship. They were both very involved with the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), a student professional organization (SPO). During their time in the organization, with Khadijah on the board and Kiana serving as the president of NABA, they worked together to expand the reach of the SPO, recruiting members who were not strictly pursuing careers in accounting but were looking to enhance their professional network and skills.

After graduation, Kiana began working in one of the big four accounting firms and became a licensed CPA in Pennsylvania. She gained real-world experience in internal and external audits with companies of all sizes, including an international nonprofit. Then, she left the corporate world to focus on her family and smaller business ventures. Khadijah built a successful career in procurement, project management and most recently working in real estate for the U.S. General Services Administration in Philadelphia.

Kiana and Khadijah remained close, bonded by friendship and a shared entrepreneurial spirit. As their individual careers took shape, so did their company Kay & Kay Group, a joint venture that they founded in 2014. The mission of the company is to create innovative products that function easily and solve everyday problems.

Their flagship product, Aqua Waterproof Headwear, was inspired by a common challenge that women face whenever a vacation or a rainy day rolls around: a fashionable way to go swimming or enjoy life without getting their hair wet. Once they had the idea to develop stylish, breathable and completely waterproof headwear, they did research and found that there was nothing else like it on the market. 

“We knew that we had a hit after talking through our idea with friends, family and focus groups. It resonated with everyone,” they say. “Not just African American women, but women across all walks of life. When we went to file a patent, even the agent loved the concept for Aqua Waterproof Headwear.”

Photo by Kay & Kay Group

They note that the key to their success while juggling their own families and careers is to treat Kay & Kay Group not as a side project or hobby, but as a business in its own right. Kiana and Khadijah have weekly meetings to discuss tasks, brainstorm new ideas and ensure that all “i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed when it comes to the quality and legitimacy of their product.  

“We work together well,” Kiana says. “I am all business. I take care of the accounting and licensing, and I am very strict. Khadijah is so creative and is great at connecting with people and building relationships. Our skills support and complement each other.”

When it comes to the future of their business, they are tight-lipped about the details but say,  “We are going to waterproof everyone’s lives.”

For more stories and news, follow the Fox School on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Photo by Chris Kendig

Meet NAO.

NAO came to Temple University about three years ago, when Li Bai and Carole Tucker, researchers from the Colleges of Engineering and Public Health, and, joined Heidi Grunwald, director of Temple’s Institute for Survey Research, to study robotics and surveys.

The team wanted to explore a big idea: What if NAO, this cute, two-foot tall, human-ish robot, could be programmed to give health surveys to children on the autism spectrum? Could they create a system to collect patient-reported outcomes in this tough-to-survey population?

Potentially, this research could solve a number of difficult problems. Currently, its parents fill out surveys on behalf of their kids. Researchers would prefer patient-reported outcomes. It’s much more accurate than information filtered through a third party, such as a parent. “Kids with autism may be willing to say they are depressed, but not in front of their mother,” says Tucker. When a one-foot-tall robot with a cute robotic voice such as NAO is asking questions instead of a human clinician, researchers might get reliable patient-reported outcomes in a way they have not been able to in the past.

The team’s research would also include another stream of valuable information: para-data. The camera inside the robot would “watch” the subject as NAO asked the survey questions. Additionally, via the sensor the subject wears (a Microsoft wristband), researchers can monitor things like facial expression, heart rate, and body motion. This para-data is a rich vein of knowledge, particularly when combined with the survey questions, response time, and answers.

If the subject pauses an extra long time when a certain question is asked, the NAO can play a game (like rock, paper, scissors), take a break, or give a high five to reduce anxiety. This is one way that the robot uses para-data to adapt to a child’s answers. The para-data also helps the researchers better understand survey responses. “For example, we can tell if a particular question made a subject nervous and then down-weight the answer, or not count it,” explains Grunwald.

“The robot’s face is much less complex than a human face and human facial expressions,” says Tucker. That makes it much less overwhelming for a young person on the autism spectrum who may find it challenging to read people’s faces and maintain eye contact.

Their project received funding through the Office for the Vice President of Research’s Targeted Grant Program at Temple University, with matching funds from all three represented schools.

Planning the research has been an iterative process. On the computer science side, Bai and his engineering students have been exploring the feasibility of using NAO this way. Bai and the students have been answering questions like, “What features would be nice? How can we use sensors to pull in data and incorporate the Microsoft band?” They have iterated and refined the data architecture, a database where the data are meshed together so that the robot can read all of the survey response data–coupled with the para-data (sensor data).

Meanwhile, the questionnaire and para-data collection process have been tested on different groups, starting with older kids not on the autism spectrum. As trial subjects, children aged 10 and up can provide specific, meaningful feedback on interacting with NAO. More recently, a community event brought a group of children on the autism spectrum to campus, and the team had an opportunity to see NAO interact with the intended study subjects. Going forward, they have the kind of pilot data that can win the funding to drive this effort forward.

This work can benefit groups beyond younger people on the autism spectrum. Any time data reported directly from a patient may be skewed or inaccurate—such as dementia patients, for example—the survey methods used in this work could prove enormously helpful to clinicians.

“With future improvement in this type of research, I think we will see more robotic diagnostic platforms that will be developed. One of the functionalities will be surveys of the patients about their health conditions. It could be particularly important for people who can not find a good hospital in their neighborhood,” says Bai.

Practical applications of this work in the future aren’t limited to the realms of research and medicine by any means. “Artificial intelligence and robotics will be the next technology push to drive the economy of our country, There will be countless business world applications—such as personal robotic assistants (such as the iPhone’s Siri) or self-driving cars,” says Bai. He believes that the technology in this project will fuel innovations across all sectors of the economy in the years to come.

This story was originally published in On the Verge, the Fox School’s flagship research magazine. For more stories, visit www.fox.temple.edu/ontheverge.