For Dr. Leila Bouamatou, DBA ’17, women’s leadership in business is deeply personal

Dr. Leila Bouamatou graduating with her family

As the daughter of the founder of a family-owned bank in the West African country of Mauritania, Bouamatou studied the challenges that women in francophone Africa face when seeking to take over the family business during her time in the Fox Executive Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) program.

Bouamatou found that women’s biggest struggles included the institutionalized stigma of working outside the home; resistance from both older male and female members of the family, who were often unwilling to break with tradition; and the convention of women taking their husband’s last names, thus having a different last name than the family company.

To succeed in leading a family business in this environment, Bouamatou identified several key factors—such as modern-thinking fathers, supportive husbands, access to educational opportunities, and personality traits like determination and ability.

As the general manager at the Mauritanian General Bank, Bouamatou hopes to inspire young African girls and women to become leaders in business. She wants others to receive the encouragement that she felt at home from her parents and siblings. “I am particularly lucky to be the daughter of a modern-thinking father who has great respect towards women,” said Bouamatou, “and who believes in the potential of his daughters.” She recalls her mother teaching her from an early age about the importance of education and ambition.

Despite the barriers that remain, she sees hope for the future. “Africa is changing, and so is the mentality,” Bouamatou said. “Women are getting more and more educated and becoming more and more ambitious. Fathers are more and more supportive of their daughters and more open-minded, compared to previous generations.”

“I am fully aware that it would be hard for one single African woman to change the world,” said Bouamatou. “But I know that this African woman can shape her world and destiny.”

Nirmala Menon, MS ’91, International Change Agent

Nirmala Menon, MS ’91

Nirmala Menon, MS ’91, worked in the Global Diversity and Multicultural Team at IBM before becoming the founder and CEO of Interweave Consulting, a diversity and inclusiveness solutions company. At IBM, she experienced the diversity and inclusion challenges across various countries. The experience prepared her to found Interweave and lead it to be a pioneer in India, where the arena was a non-existent market when the company began operations.

Through Interweave, Menon works with companies to implement progressive policies to support diverse groups. The company has touched the minds and hearts of over 150,000 people, including senior leaders and managers through its workshops and initiatives. Others receive these messages through e-modules and webinars.

“Diversity and inclusion is still a new area of work in India and it is hard to provide a direct ROI on the efforts,” said Menon, addressing the impact of her efforts. “However, there are several anecdotes that show that the efforts have translated into positive behaviors at work. A better understanding of respectful behaviors at work and more conscious efforts at gender, disability, and LGBT inclusion are all, we believe, influenced by our efforts.”

When asked how she is making the world a better place, Menon said, “In my mind, everything we do dovetails into building a better world! The work we do has a tremendous positive impact as it is directly focused on building inclusion. From helping organizations understand the value of diversity and inclusion and helping to build enabling workplace policies to support the same, it has a direct impact for the nation.”

She believes organizations are powerful vehicles of change and teach people to become influencers. “A mind expanded or enriched with knowledge and sensitivity is bound to be applied not just at work but equally in their behaviors at home and in society.”

As a result, Interweave is building the foundations for social change in India and beyond.



Every year, students and faculty at the Fox School of Business distinguish themselves on the international stage at conferences all over the world. Last month, Dr. Ram Mudambi, Professor and Perelman Senior Research Fellow at the Fox School, convened the 7th annual iBEGIN Conference, where scholars from around the world met to discuss research streams related to the iBEGIN acronym—International Business, Economic Geography and Innovation.

Hosted by the Copenhagen Business School (CBS Maritime), scholars at iBEGIN reported on many research streams related to innovation. Alain Verbake, Professor of at the University of Calgary, gave the keynote on the role of port clusters in international logistics chains. This topic reflects the 2019 conference theme: Ports versus Portals: International Connectivity and the Bundling of Tangibles and Intangibles.

By studying innovation in these international maritime hubs, iBEGIN scholars hope to uncover elements of the “invisible web” of connectivity that underlies not only our social networks, but our world. “I used to a teach a course on digital strategy,” said Mudambi, “and one of things that I noticed was that even though we think of digital connections as global, instantaneous and ubiquitous, the reality is that there is a hard infrastructure of cables and wires (the internet backbones) that actually makes it work. Hence, the intangible linkages that we take for granted are enabled by tangible networks.”

Only a handful of studies have attempted to bridge the divide between physical and digital infrastructural networks in order to better understand their joint impact on global knowledge and value creation. By exploring this new and exciting research topography, iBEGIN aims to uncover important lessons regarding the relationship between these networks and innovation.

Ultimately, innovation is the alpha and the omega of the iBEGIN project. How and whether cities, ports, or institutions increase their innovative power or lag behind global averages is of extreme importance for scholars and governments around the world. The emphasis this year on how transportation networks—which have connected humans for millennia—and new digital technologies interact is an area that is critically understudied.

iBEGIN is partially funded through the Fox School’s Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER). As part of a broader national platform supported by the Department of Education, Temple CIBER aims to promote trade education and support research in areas of international business, providing overseas work and study experiences for Fox School students. With Temple CIBER’s ongoing assistance, iBEGIN has been able to expand its influence in the international community.

“iBEGIN is the go-to place for researchers who are working at the interface of the disciplinary boundaries that the iBEGIN community acronym embodies,” said Dr. Rudolf Sinkovics, Professor of International Business at the University of Manchester. “While it is highly focused, it is an inclusive community that feels like a family and is very effective in the diffusion of work at the frontier.”

These comments were echoed by other attendees, such as Alex Berman, a PhD candidate at FOX in International Business and Strategic Management: “The 2019 iBEGIN conference in Copenhagen provided a fantastic overview of the current research on the subject of global innovation, illustrating how geographic idiosyncrasies influence important economic processes and outcomes. I was particularly impressed by the insights put forward by the series of discussions about ports and port-related initiatives, such as the presentation by Dr. Alain Verbeke on the role of port clusters in international logistic chains.”

Although housed at the Fox School, iBEGIN works with a number of partner schools around the world, such as Italy’s Politecnico di Milano and University of Venice Ca Foscari, and the Indian School of Business. Going forward, Mudambi is optimistic that the project will continue to grow, folding ever more schools and talented researchers—such as those at CBS Maritime—into its ranks. “We were able to add a whole new set of shipping researchers to the iBEGIN research network and this was a huge step forward for the network.”

The 2020 iBEGIN conference will be held at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.

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.

4 recent faculty research articles that will change how you do business

Innovative research has transformed the way we live over the last century. From the airplane and the automobile to the radio and the Internet, progress has come from forward-thinking leaders who discover new solutions and insights into how we do business.

At the Fox School, expert faculty members are taking up that mantle of progress. As they look for unsolved problems or unanswered questions, these researchers explore topics that impact our everyday lives.

1. Don’t play games with names. Mimi Morrin, a professor in the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management, found that consumers who were misidentified had a negative emotional reaction to the company. If a marketing email addresses “Shirin” as “Elizabeth,” or a barista calls out “Brian” instead of “Byron,” Morrin found consumers feel disrespected. Some even had a physical reaction to this transgression, like pushing a coffee cup further away on the table. In order to prevent customers from running away, companies don’t just have to personalize, they have to personalize correctly. Morrin suggests employing methods like frequent shopper cards in order to successfully embrace the use of customer names.

Research Impact illustration

2. Getting angry at work can (sometimes) be okay. Most people avoid yelling at work. But anger can be productive, says Deanna Geddes, associate dean, graduate programs, at the Fox School. Her recent research studied workplace anger by looking at the status (either a supervisor or subordinate) and role (either expressing or receiving angry feelings) of the parties involved. If the employees already had a strong relationship, Geddes found that emotional disagreements promoted dialogue, improved working relationships, and created a beneficial movement towards organizational change. Yet when subordinates were on the receiving end of anger, the results were more often negative. So next time you feel your blood boiling in a meeting, recognize your role and status in the situation before deciding to unleash.

3. Remember what’s in your wallet. How much cash is in your wallet right now? Did you guess correctly? Joydeep Srivastava, the Robert L. Johnson Professor of Marketing, found that people are more likely to remember what’s in their wallets when they were holding larger bills. In addition, not only were they less likely to spend their money, participants with higher denominations were more likely to underestimate the amount of money they had. If you would like to be pleasantly surprised next time you open your purse, try taking out a $50 when you go to the ATM.

4. Crowded by ads—it can cost you. Crowds are the worst. Whether it is a congested subway car or packed venue, people can often respond by turning inwards and towards their phones. Xueming Luo, Charles E. Gilliland, Jr. Professor of Marketing discovered that being in a crowded area actually increases our susceptibility to mobile ads. In his study of nearly 15,000 mobile phone users, commuters in crowded train cars were twice as likely to make a purchase in response to a mobile ad, compared to those in less crowded trains. While we normally associate crowds with anxiety and risk-avoidance, Luo found that mobile ads can be a welcome relief in this environment. For companies, this means a new way to boost marketing effectiveness. For consumers, let’s be real—this won’t stop us from pulling out our phones.

For more updates on Fox Research,  go to fox.temple.edu/idea-marketplace.

Last week, the IEI partnered with Vanguard’s Innovation Studio for the second installment in the Innovation Leaders Speaker Series, a program launched this past spring to highlight best-practices for innovation in corporate settings. The event featured Lisha Davis, Head of the Innovation Studio, who sat down with Professor Robert McNamee to discuss how the Studio operates alongside the larger Vanguard organization and best practices for accelerating innovation at the enterprise level.

The Studio itself is located on Chestnut Street in downtown Philadelphia, about 30 miles from Vanguard’s main headquarters in Malvern, PA. It features rows of open work stations, collaboration rooms, and a central space with colorful soft seating that Operations Manager, Colleen Evans, said is fondly called “the living room.” A nearly floor-to-ceiling blackboard highlights progress of the Studio’s donations towards Vanguard’s annual canned-goods drive, inspirational sayings, and a calendar listing national days of designation (National Smile Day, National Wine Day, National Bike to Work Day). It’s a fun, laid-back, high-energy space—not exactly what comes to mind when you think of an industry-leading investment-management firm. But the location of the Studio was intentional—it sits in the center of Philly’s entrepreneurial ecosystem of universities, startups, accelerators, and investors—and its funky design fosters the creativity needed to continually uncover new opportunities and solutions that move the company forward.

Despite geographic distance and a diversion from the traditional corporate environment, the Studio is every bit a part of Vanguard’s overarching mission. Innovation has long been a focus for Vanguard, which disrupted investment management as a startup many years ago. “I have been involved in department level innovation work for years,” said Davis, who was with Vanguard for several years before the Studio launched in 2017, “and innovation was always happening in pockets of the organization.”

Now the Studio offers a centralized place for this innovation to live, and their reasoning behind its launch—to explore the unknown, uncover opportunities to make strategic bets, launch new ventures, explore growth paths, and catalyze a movement at Vanguard—is brought to life by the 40-person, multidisciplinary team lead by Davis. 

The Studio takes an exploratory approach to finding opportunities, during which Davis says that “finding the right problem to solve is half the battle.” But once they do, they’re “launching ventures,” Davis emphasizes—ones that can be scaled and rolled out across the enterprise to improve the organization, and, ultimately and most importantly to Vanguard, the client experience.

“Everything we do is for the client,” Davis shared. 

Vanguard’s—and Davis’s—dedication to placing innovation at the forefront of the company’s strategic direction made for an ideal Innovation Leaders program partner.

“Showcasing innovation thought-leaders throughout the region is the goal of this series,” Professor McNamee shared. “We want to look at the intersection of innovation and entrepreneurship since that is where next generation innovation programs, structures, and processes are emerging. Vanguard’s Innovation Studio is just a phenomenal example of how large companies can incorporate approaches that originated with entrepreneurial ventures – approaches like lean startup and design thinking – and the impact this can have in an enterprise setting.”

The event was attended by Temple alumni (some now working at Vanguard), students, community professionals, and members of the Innovation Research Interchange—a worldwide network of cross-industry innovation leaders and a sponsoring partner of the Speaker Series.

“Some of the world’s most widely adopted models, such as ‘open innovation,’  ‘front end of innovation,’ and ‘stage-gate,’ were born from the work of Innovation Research Interchange (IRI) members,” said Gary Shiffres, Director of Membership Development & Partnerships for IRI. “IRI values strength in cooperation and partners with other organizations at the forefront of developments in innovation. These partnerships have created a hub for all to convene and contribute in an experimental, noncompetitive, and noncommercial environment.  Working with Temple University and Vanguard’s Innovation Studio proved to be an excellent partnership and IRI members are looking forward to more from the Innovation Leaders Speaker Series.”

Davis’s insight and the success of the Vanguard Innovation Studio since its launch exemplify what the Series aims to showcase—that innovation is an imperative for today’s companies and entrepreneurs, and when leveraged in the right ways, can drive organizations—regardless of size or industry—to new levels of customer experience, competitive advantage, workplace culture, and overall success.

“From our earliest conversation I was incredibly impressed with Lisha and this accelerator program,” said Professor McNamee. “It struck me that a successful company like Vanguard could likely rely on incremental innovation for a number of years. However, the fact that they were putting this much focus on experimentation, learning, and disruptive innovation highlights why they are likely to remain leaders into the future.”

Stay tuned for details coming soon on the next installment of the Innovation Leaders series, featuring Todd Carmichael, Founder and CEO of La Colombe, happening Fall 2019.

At any academic institution, one of the most highly valued outcomes is knowledge. In business schools across the country, faculty, staff and students produce insights that can change how business is done, inspire evidence-based management and shape the face of industries.

Part of being a global citizen, however, is ensuring that these discoveries are shared. Research without dissemination does not solve real-world problems. Bringing knowledge to the hands of practitioners is critical for the translation of insights into action.

At the Fox School, we are committed to bridging the gap between academia and industry—that’s why, in 2014, we launched the Executive Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) program to teach the tools of applied theory and research to senior executives. In this three-year, part-time program, industry leaders come together to learn a new way of thinking to solve tomorrow’s business problems.

Why the DBA Matters

In business, many organizations encourage their employees to innovate. However, the Fox DBA allows executives the freedom to experiment with evidence. By introducing students to new tools for understanding organizational systems and preparing them to address challenges with facts and data, the program offers senior managers the opportunity to become thought leaders.

“I was in the military for over 20 years. I was looking for growth and new challenges,” says Dennis Martin, DBA ’18. “I wanted a more practitioner-focused doctorate rather than just a theory-based program.”

The structured program unites academically rigorous research with practice-focused business questions. Then Fox DBA alumni like Dennis bring their insights—both the knowledge generated from the program and the tools for new ways of thinking—back to work.

Leading the Charge

“The Fox School is proud to be a leader in the DBA space,” says Steve Casper, managing director of the DBA program and professor of finance at the Fox School. “Our research focus, combined with the faculty mentors, really make our program stand out.”

Our DBA scholarly practitioners were on display at the Engaged Management Scholarship (EMS) Conference, which the Fox School hosted last September. The annual international conference, which is for doctoral students, alumni, faculty and managers involved in applied research and evidence-based management on a global scale, brought over 200 people from 100 organizations to discuss the importance of bringing research into the real world.

Presented by the Executive Doctorate in Business Administration Council (EDBAC), an organization representing more than 50 member schools in ten countries, EMS unites the academic and the practical into one three-day conference.  

“By hosting EMS, we demonstrated to the business community that the Fox School cares about bringing research to the real world,” says Casper. “We were very proud to host EMS and show off our university, as well as the city of Philadelphia.”

Applying Research to Business

At EMS, the Fox School strengthened its community of thoughtful and knowledgeable practitioners. Faculty engaged in networking across countries, programs and disciplinary fields. Students stretched the applications of their research beyond their own ideas and sought feedback from their peers. Program managers learned from each other and identified best practices for running DBA programs around the world.

“One of the more prominent questions during the conference was, ‘How do we come up with interesting problems that are researchable but also have applied business value?’” says David Schuff, professor of management information systems at the Fox School.

One example of these practical questions: How do female members of a company’s board of directors perform differently than companies with all-male boards? Ofra Bazel-Shoham, a graduate of the Fox DBA program in 2017 and assistant professor of finance at the Fox School, received the 2018 Best Paper Award in Applied Business Research, sponsored by Business Horizons, an academic journal from Indiana University, for her research that answers that question. Bazel-Shoham found that, while there was a negative correlation between the number of women on boards and the number of investments in R&D, women were more likely to focus on monitoring performance, which ends up incentivizing risky, but data-driven decisions. “As female leaders put more emphasis on monitoring,” says Bazel-Shoham, “gender-diverse boards were able to quantify and measure their decisions better than all-male boards.”

As the Fox School recommits to its position as a leader in changing global business, the DBA program can energize the bridge between research and industry. “At EMS, we built up energy and excitement of impactful and applied research,” says Susan Mudambi, academic director of the Fox DBA program and associate professor of marketing and supply chain management. “It shows how the Fox DBA is an important part of education in today’s world.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

Jonathan Huynh in Alter Hall
Jonathan Huynh, Class of 2019

The Class of 2019 from the Fox School is full of high achievers. Jonathan Huynh is one of them, but he took a path unique to undergraduate students—a deep dive into research.

“I have always been purpose-driven,” says Huynh. “The education I’ve received at Fox has constantly challenged me to delve deeper into concepts and ideas and look at them from an out-of-the-box perspective.”

Huynh is a part of the first graduating class of undergraduate students with a Statistical Science and Data Analytics (SSDA) major at the Fox School. Looking back at his journey, “I actually started out in actuarial science, but ultimately got drawn to [this program],” says Huynh. “I liked the idea of being able to gain quantitative and analytics skills to translate large data sets into meaningful solutions.”

Dr. Pallavi Chitturi, deputy chair of the Statistical Science Department, says that the new undergraduate major in Statistical Science and Data Analytics is highly rigorous. “Students get a solid foundation in statistical methods, programming languages and statistical computing, which is why the major is gaining popularity among students and employers alike,” says Chitturi.

It is rare to see an undergraduate student so deeply involved in high-quality research. “My first exposure to research was through Dr. Robert Pred, the academic director of the Fox Business Honors program,” says Huynh. ”My friend and I did an independent research project over the summer of 2017 and Dr. Pred helped set us up with an advisor to oversee our research.”

Since then, Huynh became involved with data science research projects at Temple’s College of Public Health. One of the ongoing projects that Huynh is working on compares the difference between the cost to patients and their outcomes at the Temple University Hospital versus other hospitals in the area. “Dr. Michael Halpern, an associate professor in the College of Public Health, reached out to us as they were looking for a research assistant with strong statistical skills and Jonathan was a perfect fit,” says Chitturi, who presented Huynh with this opportunity. “Dr. Halpern was so impressed by the quality of his work that he later hired another student from the SSDA major.”

Huynh largely attributes his early success to the well-designed and differentiated curriculum at the Fox School. “I’ve seen how beneficial it is to have technical skills backed by an understanding of business for courses in data science,” Huynh says. “It allows you to be at the intersection of knowing how to comfortably work with data to drive business decisions–a skill that recruiters highly value.”

Huynh plans on pursuing a master’s degree in the near future and is looking at specialized fields of data science such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. When asked if a doctorate in data science is in the cards, Huynh says he believes education is a matter of continuous learning. “Even if I don’t pursue formal education [like a PhD], I will always be self-learning… and keeping up-to-date with the latest technologies,” says Huynh.

Huynh‘s ultimate goal is to run a startup that uses data science to solve important problems that have the potential to improve the world. “I have always had entrepreneurial aspirations,” says Huynh. “The connections that I have made at Fox and the experiential learning opportunities I’ve had here have really shaped my perspectives and prepared me to achieve these goals.” He has already started on this journey, having participated in 2019 Be Your Own Boss Bowl ® pitch competition and winning the “Crowd Favorite” award.

As of now, Huynh is all set to begin his foray into the corporate world as a Business Technology Analyst at Deloitte in the Government and Public Sector practice. Huynh says, “The thing I am most excited about is to be able to make a real impact in the everyday lives of people, as I will be working on projects with government agencies to make the lives of people easier.”

Learn more about programs in the Department of Statistical Science.

Impact Summit 1
Credit: Chris Kendig

Change doesn’t happen overnight, especially in education.

For years, academics and business executives alike have questioned whether the insights from business school research conducted are getting into the hands of those who need it. The debate about “rigor versus relevance” is age-old. While the answer may seem simple, the process of getting there is complex.

The Fox School of Business is committed to pushing this conversation forward. On Friday, March 29, the Fox School’s Translational Research Center (TRC) hosted the 2019 Impact Summit, bringing together deans, faculty and students from across disciplines and parts of the world to determine how schools can move the needle of impact in tangible ways.

The attendees sought to answer the question: How can business school leadership change the way research is conceived, produced and implemented to prioritize impact?

These are five lessons business school leaders can apply:

1. Start at the top. “It takes time to re-engineer a school at a systems level,” said Tarun Khanna, a professor at the Harvard Business School. However, a top-down perspective is key to encouraging institutional change. 

Jerry Davis, associate dean at the Ross School of Business, highlighted the University of Michigan’s experiments with the promotion process. By making research impact a more significant part of an associate professor’s evaluation, he advised, deans can use promotion structures to affect change in the way their faculty conduct research. Getting top business schools across the country to agree on a new evaluation structure would be even more influential.

2. Instill impact’s importance early. The attendees also discussed tackling the issue of impact from the opposite side—starting with junior faculty and doctoral students. Elizabeth Cowley, deputy dean of the University of Syndey, said that in Australia, “faculty are encouraged to build a narrative of the long-term impact [they] have had on some sector of society.” Attendees agreed, remarking on the importance of letting junior faculty members define for themselves how they would want to make an impact and develop a strategy based on that objective. With doctoral students, the starting point should be their research questions—advisors should ask if it is grounded in a real-life phenomenon and has relevance in the business world.

3. Systematically engage with business. “Business leaders tend to look at our schools primarily as labor markets for sourcing the MBAs and business graduates,” said Joanne Li, dean of the business school at Florida International University. “We need to help them recognize us as knowledge markets as well. We are able to produce expert knowledge vital for their business growth and survival.”

Brent Beardsley, the chief strategy officer at Vanguard, talked about the value of an advisory board made up of executives, entrepreneurs and academics. “That mix is really rich,” he said. “This is a lab outside of the walls of Vanguard’s large institution that can get out in front of market trends and themes.”

Participants championed the creation of a brokerage platform between companies and universities that could connect those who have real problems to those working on practical solutions. Simple activities like business sabbaticals for faculty, corporate engagement in research projects and programs like Fox Management Consulting can help faculty to better define their research questions.

4. Use teaching as a tool. One speaker suggests a change in vocabulary to underscore the importance of teaching. “We shouldn’t be referring to a ‘teaching load,’ said Gautam Ahuja of SC Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. “It’s not a load, it’s a tool.” Academic leadership can encourage faculty to step into the shoes of learners, focus on practical insights in the classrooms and foster intellectual questions with relevance. Stronger connections to industry, through practitioner conferences, relationships with practice faculty and co-teaching with executives can also benefit classroom outcomes.

5. Be a community hub. Business schools will also benefit from a stronger community connection. “We should be known by the community where they can come to get ideas,” said Will Mitchell, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Attendees brainstormed ways to make research more accessible but noted that faculty will need different reward structures and training to bring that to fruition. Ideas like three-minute presentations or one-page summaries of academic papers can help get ideas out of academia and into the real world.

Ronald Anderson, interim dean of the Fox School, remarked at the end of the day that a lot was learned. “Disruption is going to have to be part of the process,” he said. “Technology and innovation are changing higher education, and research is going to have to address that.”

The event, a follow-up to the 2018 Editors’ Summit, is part of a series of initiatives by the TRC to change how both academics and practitioners view business research. Other activities have included the TRC’s Seminar Series, which invites executives to share their viewpoints on faculty research presentations, and case writing workshops, which encourage faculty members to learn and perfect their skills in writing and submitting teaching cases for publication.

Learn more about the Fox School’s Translational Research Center.

Robots have arrived at over 170 GIANT Food Stores in Philadelphia and the surrounding region.
Credit: GIANT Food Stores

Everything around us seems to be getting smarter by the day—like smart refrigerators, driverless cars and robotic assistants. The “Internet of Things” (IoT), which is the internet-enabled network of everyday devices, has become prevalent in our lives, both inside and outside of the workplace. But with the rapid developments in recent technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), will these intelligent systems make human workforce redundant?

In other words: do we run the risk of being replaced by machines?  

Paul Pavlou, Milton F. Stauffer Professor at the Fox School, argues that instead of replacing us, AI and humans will work side-by-side to address some of the bigger problems that neither can solve alone. Popularly referred to as “Augmented Intelligence,” this concept focuses on the assistive role of AI to improve human intelligence, rather than computers fully taking over our jobs.

Man vs. Machine

While computers have the ability to collect, aggregate and analyze an enormous amount of data, humans surpass machines when dealing with ambiguity, vagueness and incomplete information. Augmented Intelligence recognizes these complementary strengths and problem-solving capabilities of man and machine. “This collaborative interaction between human beings and computers arises when IoT collects the data and AI tools perform calculations based on criteria determined by humans,” says Pavlou, who is also the co-director of Temple’s university-wide Data Science Institute.

For example, GIANT Food Stores has introduced “Marty,” a robotic assistant, to the 172 stores in Philadelphia and the surrounding region. The robot roams the store, seeking to identify and eliminate spills from foods, products or liquids. Other examples can be found in the retail industry, where location-based technology devices and eye-tracking devices can help optimize the placement of merchandise. Meanwhile, salespeople equipped with mobile devices can leverage personalized information in real-time to sell products customized to individual shoppers.

A More Human IoT

In the future of work, managers can embrace both the fully-automated and Augmented Intelligence solutions. This choice depends on factors such as the nature of the task, expected performance and the costs and risks of autonomous IoT solutions that would operate without any human interventions. For example, automated manufacturing, predictive maintenance and security IoT solutions may—cautiously—be fully automated. But in industries like healthcare, cybersecurity and financial technology, human oversight will still be crucial.

For the time being, appropriate IoT designs should maintain a reasonable level of human control and oversight, says Pavlou. “This will give us adequate time to get comfortable with delegating control to machines.” In the distant future, machines alone might dominate decision-making in most applications. However, Pavlou says, “It will be a fairly long time until this happens. Until then, major intellectual advances will be made by humans and computers working together.”

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.