New to Pitt: SCI professor focuses on underserved students


“All of my work focuses on supporting learners who have been historically excluded from STEM fields,” said Angela Stewart, a new assistant professor in the Department of Informatics and Networked Systems in the School of Computing and Information, who started in September.

Focusing on Black learners, especially Black girls, as well as girls overall and non-binary learners, “is so key to my work because so much of science has focused on white and Western and male learners. It is important to me as a Black woman researcher to support our students as they are coming to the learning environment.”

When interviewing for her Pitt post, “I was really impressed with the diversity of expertise that is at this University, and there are so many potential colleagues that I could work with,” Stewart said. Given how interdisciplinary her work is, she added, “there was a sense of ‘Oh, there are really people here who have similar goals as me.’ ”

She is also a research scientist in the Learning Research and Development Center. Her informatics involves understanding how people interact with computers to improve the process and outcome. How do we create technologies that aid learning? How can the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — employ computer learning to create better classroom environments for all kids?

That means her work also focuses on equity and social justice, Stewart explained. Too often education employs the deficit models of learning, focusing on what learners don’t know, can’t do or need to be corrected concerning. Rather, she said, learners come to learning environments with their own identities, values and culture, “and generally their way of doing things, and I see all these things as strengths that can be used to leverage their learning.”

As an undergraduate at Auburn, Stewart first became interested in creating computing systems that support people. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Colorado–Boulder, where she worked on modeling how groups of students engage in problem-solving in physics and computing. Doing her post-doc at Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute, she focused on devising technologies that support teacher-student classroom dialogue.

Next semester she will be teaching a social computing course: “I am excited to put a big ethics lens on it — how do we design systems to help people be social ethically with each other?” — and not only in social media. The class also will examine how interactions with a robot in computing education might enable more collaborative conversations between learners.

When not engaged by these topics, Stewart tries her hand at upcycling: taking furniture pieces of her own, or from discards and thrift stores, to refresh their design and make them usable again. Right now she is adding gold leaf to a coffee table.

Her field is having an up moment in its own cycle, as it were: “There is a lot more attention to these topics” that she studies, she said.

“I do still think that there is some work to be done. What does equity mean for the future? People are now acknowledging this is a topic that needs to be paid attention to and let’s hope acknowledgment leads to genuine change.”

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.


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