Jill Woelfer (2011-2012) is an American Fulbright Scholar who just received the University of Washington Graduate School Medal for her research on homeless youth and their access to personal digital technologies. The Graduate School Medal is given to one Ph.D. candidate annually, whose academic expertise and community awareness are integrated. Jill’s commitment to helping homeless youth made her an ideal candidate for the award. In an interview with the University of Washington, Jill states, “I cannot think of a better way to spend my life. It is an honor to be recognized by the UW Graduate School for my work.”
Jill is currently on her Fulbright exchange at the University of British Columbia, and is working on her dissertation research which engages 200 homeless young people. She plans to share data with a study at the University of Southern California, which will cover technology use, risk-taking behaviors, mental health, and musical preference. Jill states that “Like all young people, homeless young people use personal technologies, such as mobile phones and music players, and information systems such as MySpace and Facebook. But the role of these technologies is not understood by agencies that assist them. Consequently, agencies often restrict use or access to these technologies.”
Music and technology have always interested Jill, and have provided inspiration for her dissertation – a comparative study of the role of music in the lives of homeless young people in Vancouver and Seattle. Jill plans to collaborate with homeless young people in these cities to develop public exhibits of design drawings and stories created as part of her dissertation research. Through these exhibits, the youth will remain anonymous while speaking directly to people in their communities about the role of technology and music in their everyday lives.
The combination of academic research and community involvement is also apparent in other projects Jill has initiated. Jill completed her Master’s of Science in Information Management at the UW Information School (iSchool), where she worked with David G. Hendry, an associate professor at the iSchool, to create a community technology centre. She partnered with Street Youth Ministries, and received a $35,000 state grant. The community centre offered computer-related life skills classes that educated street youth on using technology to find employment. This center inspired a new project, funded by the National Science Foundation, where Woelfer and Hendry are currently working to develop the social and technical aspects of a system that will help homeless young people find and keep jobs.
Visit the University of Washington website to read more about Jill Woelfer.