For master’s student Rebecca Stone, service isn’t just a way to spend a spare Saturday, but a way of life. Logging in at more than 2,300 hours of community service for 18 different organizations, and 11 years with the U.S. Army, Stone has shown a commitment to public service that is not only admirable, but has shaped her academic future here at UMD.
Stone, a first-year student in the iSchool’s master of human-computer interaction program, was recognized for her community service by Governor Larry Hogan as a recipient of one of the Governor’s Service Awards in a ceremony last fall. The Governor’s Service Awards are given annually to outstanding individuals or groups for their commitment to service and volunteerism. Stone was the first-ever recipient to be recognized in the newly-created “Veteran” category. She is a wounded warrior who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.
Originally from Oklahoma, and a member of the Chickasaw Nation, Stone’s most significant current service is as a commissioner with the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs. Stone became active with the commission’s activities soon after moving to Maryland in 2009, and has been a commissioner since 2013. She has also been an active volunteer with the Girl and Boy Scouts, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, among many others.
Throughout her volunteer experiences, Stone observed a common problem—technology. Most notably, how many of the organizations she has worked with have problems that could be solved by technology—if the available tools on the market actually met their needs. It is this gap that drove her interest in human-computer interaction.
Her academic interests are in how to apply cultural knowledge to the development of technologies that better meet the needs of a more diverse set of users—a key component, she believes, in addressing the digital and technical divide in which minorities, the elderly, low income people, and others have less access to and comfort using technology and technical information. Her volunteer work has helped her understand how important it is to work among communities to really understand their needs and how complex it can be just to gather people from different communities together to genuinely communicate.
“I’m passionate about understanding how people interact with technology,” she says. “We need to understand communities in order to serve them appropriately and to ensure that they have the information that they need and that technology works for them. This is really a win-win for everyone. Companies benefit when their products appeal to a wide variety of audiences, just as people benefit when they have the technical tools they need.”
Despite only being in her first semester, Stone has already started to make her mark at the iSchool. “Rebecca is a great student,” says Jennifer Golbeck, associate professor in the iSchool. “She has a special ability to see the way many different problems connect, fit together, and feed into common solutions. She can also look forward to anticipate the consequences of various approaches and what their impact might be.”
With most of her program still ahead of her, Stone is keeping her options open for what comes next. “If there’s one thing my military service taught me, it’s the importance of being flexible,” she says. “But, I want to have an impact on the technology industry in how they approach the design process.”