By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

How do people get back to normal life when adjusting their perspectives, social relationships, identities, and other everyday facets after experiencing major cultural and environmental disruptions? Could specific technologies be designed to help them?

Those are questions School of Information Studies (iSchool) assistant professor Bryan Semaan is investigating with two local populations: refugees (for this study, those of Iraqi descent); and military veterans. He’s now laying the groundwork for research interviews that will begin in January, working with Catholic Charities of Syracuse and the Veterans Resource Center at Syracuse University. He’s also connecting with the Veterans Administration and area veterans groups to seek study participants.

“People have this rhythm and flow of life. Then when they go into a new situation, the rhythm and flow that characterizes what is normal is lost. Newcomers, or people coming back home, face a lot of challenges,” Dr. Semaan noted. From the dual perspectives of Iraqis being displaced from their homes and veterans coming back from war, you can ask the same sort of questions, he added. “How do you help refugees to integrate into a new society? How do you help veterans re-integrate into society?”

Refugee groups must not only learn about a new culture and the new rules and laws that dictate the society they have joined, but also must find jobs, obtain new places to live, and situate themselves in a new community. Veterans, when called to active duty, experience a camaraderie along with the rigors of service life. Then when they go home, what was familiar during that time no longer is, the professor illustrated. “It’s very much about how people are resilient or not; and if not, how do you help them bounce back and get their life back on track.” Some of that resiliency may come in the form of communication through social media platforms, or apps that connect them with their previous situations while helping them find their way in a new one, he said.

Syracuse, with its high density of refugee populations and diverse cultures, and Syracuse University, with its emphasis on serving military veterans, are natural centers of study, Semaan, who came to the School in August from his previous post-doctoral work at the University of  Hawaii, has found.

While it’s a possibility that new tools or social media platforms might come out of the research, that is something study outcomes will determine, the professor said. Nevertheless, any technology would need to take into account the nuances of different cultures and be able to translate skill sets from one culture or environment to another.

“Ultimately, veterans and refugees are understudied populations, and they’re really underserved in a sense, so having the ability and the skills to potentially help them is what excites me about doing this kind of work,” he added.

Dr. Semaan researches how people are shaped by interactive and collaborative technologies, and the effects of those technologies’ use on individuals, groups, and societies. His research integrates qualitative, quantitative and computation analysis to identify and pursue potentially impactful design opportunities, policy changes, and infrastructure initiatives to improve peoples’ livelihoods and better the world.

Assisting him in the research project is doctoral student Bryan Dosono, whose work in information and communication technologies is focused on digital inclusion for underserved communities.