When Daphne Charles ’18 began her studies at Rutgers University–New Brunswick School of Communication and Information (SC&I), she had no idea her academic path would lead to the other side of the globe. The Master of Information (MI) graduate recently completed a research and innovation fellowship with USAID, an organization that leads international development and humanitarian efforts, at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa. We recently spoke to Charles about her work at UCT, advice for women who want to pursue STEM-related careers, and her mentors at SC&I.
Why drew you to the Master of Information’s Informatics and Design concentration for graduate study?
I received my bachelor’s from the School of Communication and Information in Information Technology and Informatics, and I wanted to continue the same path of learning about different technologies in graduate school. I really enjoyed the courses I took at SC&I during my bachelor’s and felt like I had learned a lot, so I wanted to continue learning as much as I could!
What do you think are the top three benefits of the MI program?
First, the courses are very flexible. You can take them either on campus, fully online, or a hybrid of both. This makes it very easy to complete your degree even if you have a job or other responsibilities besides school. Another benefit of the program is that it allows students to choose their own path. There are many concentrations for different skills and different career paths. I wanted to learn more about programming and technology, while other students might want to learn more about libraries and archiving. It is a really diverse program. Finally, the quality of education makes it all worth it. Many of my instructors were extremely helpful in wanting me to succeed and taught me a lot.
Can you tell us how you were awarded the USAID Research and Innovation Fellowship at the University of Cape Town?
I was looking into fellowship and scholarship opportunities for graduate students at Rutgers and I came across a call for applications on the study abroad website. The fellowship sounded amazing - the opportunity to perform graduate level research at a university abroad with a focus on international development and emerging communities around the world. As someone who is interested in travel and learning about different cultures, I was very intrigued. I looked through the USAID website for ongoing projects that needed fellowship students, and found the opportunity at the University of Cape Town to be most fitting for my skills and career goals. I contacted the advisor for the project, Jean-Paul Van Belle, and he said he would be happy to have me! Finally, I contacted the Rutgers-USAID department and began my application which included a proposal for my research, a budget, and a letter of recommendation.
What responsibilities were involved in your fellowship?
My research focused on identifying stakeholders in offline education and digital libraries’ initiatives. The goal of the research was to bridge the communication gap between three groups: schools needing educational technologies, organizations creating the technologies, and initiatives sponsoring these technologies. To accomplish this, we needed to find a way to provide a platform for stakeholders using various technologies to serve educational content to schools in rural and developing countries in Africa. I developed an informational website for this platform on Wordpress: ConnectEDAfrica.org.za.
What have you learned from this fellowship on a professional level?
I learned how to conduct research at the graduate and doctoral level. It was a very enriching experience to work with and learn from my colleagues, most of whom were doctoral students working on their thesis at the University of Cape Town. Additionally, I improved my web development skills on Wordpress. I also learned more about myself, and my desire to use my web development skills to improve education for children around the world.
How did the MI program prepare you for this fellowship?
Many of the skills I learned in various MI program courses helped me with my duties during this fellowship. Specifically, these courses were Database Management, Interface Design, Multimedia Production, and Project Management.
As a web developer in a very male-dominated field, what would you advise female students and recent grads who want to pursue a career in IT or other STEM-related fields?
For women in tech, I would advise them to be confident in their abilities. In the web development field, a majority of the people you will be working with will be men, but don’t let that intimidate you. It may feel a bit uncomfortable to stand out, but just know you are great role models for other young women and girls who are interested in STEM fields. Even now when I attend tech conferences and events I am seeing more and more women attend, and it’s great to see women encouraged and welcomed into this field.
Did you have a specific faculty member or mentor at SC&I that helped you on your career path?
- Assistant Teaching Professor of Library and Information Science Anselm Spoerri helped me during the application process for the USAID fellowship by providing me a recommendation letter and reviewing my application materials.
- Sharon Stoerger, assistant dean for instructional support and assessment and former director of Information Technology and Informatics, has always been a helpful guide and source of information for finding my opportunities for learning and growth within SC&I.
- Part-time Instructor Vincent Colonna taught my Advanced Web Design class during my undergraduate degree. His expertise and what I learned from the course is really what inspired me and made me fall in love being a web developer.
- Teaching Instructor in Library and Information Science Suchinthi Fernando was my teacher for Database Design and I was also her TA for an undergraduate course. I learned a lot from her class and also from working with her.
What advice do you have for current Rutgers students and upcoming graduates who want to launch a career in your field?
My advice for current students is to be bold. Aim for opportunities that may seem to be out of your reach, but are still possible. Ask yourself if a career in tech is truly something you want and can imagine yourself succeeding in. If the answer is yes, the only acceptable action to take is giving your best in to achieving your goal.
For more information on SC&I’s Master of Information (MI) program, click here