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2021 Open House Award Winners

2021 Open House Award Winners: Florian Janke, Raivynn Smith, Sashank Macharla

Congratulations to the 2021 Dean’s Choice Award and Diversity & Inclusion Award winners!

The School of Information’s annual spring Open House virtual event showcases graduating student’s capstone projects and highlights the latest in digital libraries and archives, data analysis, information architecture and organization, user experience research and design, and much more!

View all spring 2021 capstone projects. 


Dean’s Choice Award Winner: Florian Janke

Dean Eric T. Meyer is pleased to present the Dean’s Choice award to Florian Janke!

“We had an impressive set of projects submitted for consideration this year, so making up my mind wasn’t easy,” Dean Meyer said. “The four finalists all did outstanding work.”

Postpartum support-bot: An AI-powered chatbot for parents with postpartum

Finalist Jiajun (Janet) Dai was part of a team designing an AI-powered chatbot application that helps parents with postpartum easily seek support and get comfort. The goal is to be able to provide around-the-clock first line of response that can help parents immediately, rather than traditional models of needing to wait until office hours to start to get help.

A GPU-accelerated MRI Sequence Simulation for Differentiable Optimization and Learning

For his project, finalist Somnath Rakshit worked closely with a faculty member in engineering to design an MRI simulator using deep learning techniques that had several orders of magnitude better performance than existing simulators. His work will be presented at an academic conference this summer.

Inclusive Healthcare: Understanding the invisible barriers in the American Healthcare System

Finalist Sashank Marchala worked on a project understanding barriers in U.S. healthcare, using a diverse sample of participants to create an actionable map of ways that organizations like his partner, Athenahealth, can better support diverse populations.

Using Machine Learning of Demographics and Clinical History to Predict Suicide Outcomes

Florian Janke collaborated with UT Austin’s Dell Medical School to build better models for predicting suicide using demographics and mood disorder history. “When I spoke with Florian about his project,” Dean Meyer said, “I was particularly impressed with how this project enabled him to use real data about a real-world problem to contribute to a better understanding of an important topic.”

In Janke’s project, mood disorder and related clinical features were extracted from free-text descriptions to predict suicide mortality. Using these features and demographic data on deceased individuals collected by the National Institute of Mental Health, a machine learning model was trained to predict suicide/non-suicide outcome with a weighted F-1 score of ~84%.

Janke said, "Through my capstone I gained a lot of experience working with data and applying computational approaches to extract insights and connections from raw datasets. Working on this real-life data helped me better understand how to apply the skills I had learned in class outside of a theoretical setting. The project also helped me improve my ability to present and communicate information to relevant stakeholders as I prepared presentations and check-ins to show my progress throughout the semester. I am truly thankful for the instruction and advice I received from the faculty at the iSchool throughout my academic career and am certain that the knowledge gained will be of great help as I start my professional career."

Dean Meyer said, “For me, Florian exemplifies how the capstone projects can open up new topics, new collaborations, and let our students apply their skills and knowledge in ways that make the world a better place.” Congratulations, Florian!

Diversity & Inclusion Award Winners: Sashank Macharla & Raivynn Smith

The iSchool’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee is pleased to present the Diversity & Inclusion award to Sashank Macharla and Raivynn Smith!

Inclusive Healthcare: Understanding the invisible barriers in the American Healthcare System

For his capstone project, Sashank Macharla was a UX researcher at Athenahealth where he conducted a generative research study to determine how individuals of diverse backgrounds navigate the American healthcare system and what factors affect their choices around choosing a doctor.

“There are issues in the healthcare system that perpetrate systemic discrimination based on racism, sexual orientation and socio-economic factors which may create barriers to individuals’ access to care and how they benefit from it,” he said. “We conducted numerous research interviews with people from diverse ethnicities, cultures, genders and sexual orientations to understand what these barriers are, and if they can be solved through design.”

Macharla found that when patients had similar backgrounds or identities as their healthcare provider, there was more trust, which improved the quality of doctor-patient interactions. Additionally, healthcare providers being aware of these factors and making a conscious choice and effort to be respectful, empathetic, and not stereotype patients can largely offset inequities. Macharla’s research will help inform design decisions at Athenahealth and potentially improve patient outcomes, especially the outcomes of those diverse populations who have been historically excluded or abused by the healthcare system.

"My time at the iSchool instilled a firm belief that, as designers, we do something beyond building functional experiences. At its core, design is about what ties us together as people and users - our motivations, aspirations, and behaviors. Good design includes, and when we include, we empower everyone involved," Macharla said.

Reading the Rainbow: Evaluating the Collection of the UT Gender and Sexuality Center’s Ana Sisnett Library

For Raivynn Smith’s capstone project, they conducted a collection and catalog evaluation as well as created a collection development plan for the UT Gender and Sexuality Center’s Ana Sisnett Library. Smith’s work focused on increasing the accessibility of the library for its users, who are primarily members of the queer and trans community on campus and the surrounding area.

“One of the crucial conversations I had throughout the project was about how to catalog and represent race and ethnicity within the collection,” Smith said. “Although there is no one ‘right’ way to do this, I solicited as much input as possible and proposed a recommendation that also stressed the importance of continuing conversations and engaging patrons and community members on the topic.”

The Ana Sisnett Library is one of the Gender and Sexuality Center’s most popular resources and has been cultivated with intention, care and inclusivity at the forefront. Smith’s work creating a collection development plan, performing cataloging updates, and developing a new primer focusing on disabilities in the LGBTQ+ community will help to further expand access to materials that support marginalized students.

"Through my work with the Gender and Sexuality Center, I learned the immeasurable value of building relationships with everyone, from professional staff to students and volunteers. By taking the time to engage with all stakeholders at meetings and focus groups, and understand the values and mission of the organization, I was able to learn so much more and provide accurate, realistic goals for the library," Smith said.

D&I Committee chair Rachel Van Middlesworth said, "Raivynn's work to bring increased representation and accessibility to a campus library, along with Sashank's efforts to dismantle barriers to healthcare access represent the capacity of our students as information professionals to make the world a better and fairer place. Our committee is delighted to present Raivynn and Sashank's capstone projects with the 2021 Diversity & Inclusion Awards in recognition of their work." Congratulations, Sashank and Raivynn!

May 14, 2021