fbpx 2023 Capstone Award Winners | UT iSchool | The University of Texas at Austin

2023 Capstone Award Winners

2023 Capstone Award Winners

Congratulations to the 2023 Dean’s Choice Award and Diversity & Inclusion Award winners! Congratulations also to our first undergraduate capstone award winners!

The School of Information’s annual spring poster sessions showcase graduating student’s capstone projects and highlight the latest in digital libraries and archives, data analysis, information architecture and organization, user experience research and design, and much more!

View spring 2023 capstone projects. 

Dean’s Choice Award Winner: Talia Potochny

Dean Eric T. Meyer is pleased to present the Dean’s Choice award to Talia Potochny!

"It was a pleasure to speak with this year's finalists," said Dean Eric T. Meyer. "Their work showcased the diverse range of projects pursued by iSchool students, and their passion for creating positive change through information was evident. Their contributions are already making a significant impact on the world."

Finalist: Custom Object Detection for GIS at UT-Libraries

Hannah Dubbe’s project involved working with UT Libraries to use her machine learning skills to automate the process of annotating the UT Library map collections by detecting visual features such as street intersections on the maps automatically. The previously time-consuming and tedious work of hand annotation was sped up and made more accurate and also promises to eventually allow for the creation of maps with layers that link to historical maps and automatically find, overlay, and stitch together maps with shared features. Hannah plans to continue working full-time for UT Libraries and to expand the project.

Finalist: Comparative Analysis of Deep Learning Models for Chest X-ray Classification and Interpretability Using Explainable AI Techniques

Hari Priya Kandasamy’s master’s thesis project (supervised by Dr. Ding and Dr. Mishra in the iSchool) utilized novel explainable AI techniques to process chest x-ray images to more accurately detect various diseases and chest conditions. Extensive datasets of images were used to compare several machine learning approaches that outperformed existing models and is a step along the road of improving healthcare outcomes for ill patients.

Winner: Houston Runner Market Discovery Research

Dean’s Choice Winner Talia Potochny did her Professional Experience Project with Austin-based Favor Delivery. The company had identified a strange problem: their ‘runners’ in Houston were following unusual usage patterns that didn’t make sense to the company, but they didn’t have the resources to explore in-depth. Talia used interviews and surveys to uncover hidden reasons behind these patterns, including runners being afraid of being locked out of neighborhoods, a preference for orders on another platform, excessive distances involved, and DEI issues such as personal safety fears if going into certain high SES neighborhoods as an underrepresented minority. The company has already been using this research to make changes to their app, and have hired Talia to join the company full-time.

“I take pride in helping others. During my capstone with Favor Delivery, I had a really exciting opportunity to help others by conducting research that led to improved user experiences for our Favor Runners. My capstone — which I found via the iSchool — helped me gain valuable research and interpersonal skills that I plan to implement in my career," Talia said.

Dean Meyer was struck by the often surprising insights gained during the research, and the immediate impact it is having on the PEP project partner. “This is an exemplar of the synergies between project hosts, students, and research participants—truly a win-win-win situation,” said Dean Meyer.

Congratulations, Talia! 

Diversity & Inclusion Award Winners: Emma Bekele & Gayathri Ramesh

The iSchool’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee is pleased to present the Diversity & Inclusion award to Emma Bekele and Gayathri Ramesh.

Winner: Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at a Rural Texas Public Library

Emma Bekele’s project aimed to develop a DEI initiative at the Pottsboro Library, a rural public library. While the city of Pottsboro is majority white, the library seeks to expand its reach throughout the entire county, which is more diverse. In this project, Emma suggested local partnerships for the library, recommended diverse books, and wrote a DEI training guide based on research and best practices and a production of a DEI training guide for the primarily white library board. This will improve equity in Pottsboro and put the library in a better position to petition the county for additional funding.  

"My iSchool classes taught me that the history of librarianship has been fraught with racial inequality. I was glad for the opportunity to make an impact on diversity in the field," Emma said.

“Emma’s project addresses a socio-informational problem; how to support a public library in rural Texas to better serve an increasingly diverse population. DEI initiatives in public libraries are a key vehicle to achieve their goals and help in the process of social integration and community engagement," said Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Edgar Gómez-Cruz, who is the iSchool D&I Committee chair.

Winner: Navigating Online Accessibility In Learning Environments and Evaluating the Usability of the Ally Accessibility Platform on UT Canvas

Gayathri Ramesh’s investigated faculty perspectives and experience with the Ally platform on Canvas, which automatically checks course materials for accessibility and offers guidance to enhance accessibility. Gayathri used surveys, interviews, and focus groups to identify issues and provide suggestions for supporting the university's implementation and rollout of the platform. The goal was to understand how faculty members interact with Ally and improve accessibility for students.

"Throughout my time at the iSchool, my professors consistently emphasized the importance of being open-minded and inclusive to foster more enriching conversations, and to help create more positive and empowering experiences," Gayathri said. "This resonates with my belief that those involved in the UX field are motivated by a genuine care for people and a desire to improve their experiences, lives, and in a way, the world. During my capstone project, I had the privilege of working alongside faculty, staff, and students across different departments at UT, who shared a passion for enhancing the accessibility & inclusivity of learning experiences. This shared empathy and motivation propelled our team forward despite challenges. Engaging in open conversations through focus groups and interviews with UT faculty and staff helped us uncover critical insights and growth opportunities, which helped us plan for the next steps to provide better support and solutions for a more inclusive UT. What I learned most from working with the Ally Support Team in my capstone and from the iSchool, is the value of empathy. By truly understanding those we seek to help, we can have meaningful conversations to create & design solutions, build a more open & inclusive community, and strive to make lives and the world better, one step at a time."

“Gayathri's project addresses a different but equally relevant form of inclusion: information accessibility,” Assistant Dean Gómez-Cruz said. “The outcome of this project will improve the deployment of a key technology for teaching and learning at UT Austin, enhancing the learning experience, and making it a more inclusive environment.”

Congratulations, Emma and Gayathri!

Undergraduate Poster Award Winners

The iSchool also hosted the first ever undergraduate poster session! Matthew Randall, who served as one of the judges, said, "I was truly impressed by their work. These excellent presentations were a testament to the high caliber of this program, the mentorship, and the individual efforts of the iSchool students. I expect them to forge very promising careers."

First Place: Evaluation of a Creativity-Support Tool

Emily Do worked with Dr. Soo Young Rieh’s team who developed an online creativity support tool called SearchIdea for users to generate and map out their ideas during academic searches. Emily prepared and performed a heuristic evaluation of the user interface as well as usability testing with users interacting with SearchIdea’s features. The evaluations resulted in several findings, with the most critical issue being related to the lack of visible context provided for first-time users who are not familiar with SearchIdea and how to use its features. As such, it is recommended to prioritize making changes to the UX design that would offer users more context, such as hover labels, and headlines. By doing so, SearchIdea can largely improve its usability and accomplish its goal of supporting its users’ creativity.

“My experience with the capstone project reaffirmed a lesson that I learned from my time at the iSchool — that there will always be opportunities for UX design improvements,” Emily said, “but as a designer, it is up to you to advocate for the user and push for these changes!"

Second Place (tie): InternCity

Ellis Brown’s report provides insight into InternCity, a conceptual mobile application that aims to connect interns within a city digitally. This user experience (UX) design project employed design thinking to develop a user-friendly and easily accessible application. The deliverables of the project include research insights, an affinity diagram, user personas, user stories, user flows, storyboards, branding, wireframes, and application prototypes.

Ellis said, “Through these deliverables, I have demonstrated proficiency in product and user experience design, research, prototyping, and stakeholder management. The contribution to my career goals has also been significant. This project has allowed me to apply design thinking principles to solve complex problems and demonstrate my user experience design proficiency.”

Second Place (tie): Cap Metro Usability Testing

Isabel Karolczak participated in a usability testing project hosted by Progress UX for Cap Metro to determine how the new fare programs implemented on the Cap Metro website were interpreted by users and identify pain points. This project lasted roughly 1.5 months and included two rounds of usability testing, two topline reports, and a final report. The main findings showcased that users struggled to comprehend how the new fare programs worked and who would qualify. After recommending to present the programs in more visual ways and slightly changing the diction used, the second round of testing showcased that user comprehension of the new fares rose by 80%. However, users still struggled to feel confident that they chose the best fare for them. The final recommendation was to implement a close-ended survey so the user could input their information and would then be recommended the best fare for them.

“This project was incredibly beneficial to my career, as it provided me with hands-on experience and allowed me to use what I have been taught as a student in a professional setting,” Isabel said.

Honorable Mention: UT Creates Institution-Wide ePortfolio Project Report

Kaylee Su evaluated the current user experience for students and professors using UT Creates, a platform that allows students and professionals to develop their own professional websites. Kaylee conducted user interviews to discover why users were struggling to use the tool and generated potential action items through research synthesis, then formulated tutorial videos with written documentation to accompany the portfolio template to ensure students and professors are well-equipped with easy-to-understand instructional material.

“Through working on the UT Creates project, I have learned more about navigating the professional communication space and was able to apply design thinking principles I have learned in my UX classes through user research and synthesis,” Kaylee said.

April 26, 2023