By: Diane Stirling
He grew up in San Diego, attended University of California, Irvine for his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, then did post-doctoral work at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. But it took just one visit to Syracuse University for new faculty member Bryan Semaan to recognize that the School of Information Studies was his rightful new home.
“After interviewing with several schools I considered good ones for the field, I came here and instantly felt like this was the place for me,” the new iSchool faculty member confided. “First and foremost, it started with the people. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly. I already knew that fantastic research is being done here, and then they [the people here] embody the faculty-of-one mentality.”
The School’s strong reputation and abilities in natural language processing were additional factors in the decision, the assistant professor said. “It’s nice to be able to say I can use various NLP tools for my research, but I can’t create the dictionary, or the machine to constantly modify a dictionary. But here, you have all these people who can do that sort of thing, so I felt the synergy when I got here.”
Dr. Semaan studies computer-supported cooperative work, human-computer interaction, and social computing/social media. He plans to expand on his theoretical contributions by examining the role of technology during disruptions, and the intersection between technology, politics, and disruption via social movements. He looks at social phenomenon “with the intention of building new socio-technical capabilities,” he said, “examining how citizens deliberate and make political decisions through social media and use social media to gather and disseminate opinions and have discussions.”
“As a trained computer scientist, my goal is to apply a design science approach that utilizes qualitative and quantitative research methods to inform the design and development of technologies that improve people's livelihoods and better the world,” he said. Part of that is looking at “how people go from being disrupted back to a state of normalcy, and how people maintain their routines in spite of the disruptions they are experiencing.” The Syracuse area, with its diverse population, including a sizeable refugee community, makes a perfect research tableau, the professor concluded.
Dr. Semaan’s interest in diversity and how people manage despite crisis stems in some degree from his heritage as an Iraqi and member of the Chaldean Christian minority population, he said. His family traces its heritage back several millennia in Iraq. Living in close-knit communities in the San Diego County area has helped him maintain a strong family and social identity, he added, so the culture of community at the iSchool, together with its rich research environment was an attraction.
The former resident of Hawaii and Southern California quipped, “They told me about Syracuse weather and I still came; that’s how much I like the iSchool and the people that are here.”
This semester, he will be teaching a course in Human-Computer Interaction.