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Aleshia Hayes, College of Arts and Sciences Alumni

Aleshia Hayes had no idea how complex her collegiate journey would be when she first enrolled at IPFW in 1995. She was a computer science major, but switched to psychology, graduating with B.A. in psychology in 2001, and then returned to IPFW for a master’s degree in communication. After receiving her M.A. in 2008, Hayes left Fort Wayne to study computer modelling and simulation at the University of Central Florida, from which she received a Ph.D. in 2015. Now, Hayes is back at IPFW as a visiting assistant professor in IPFW's Department of Computer Science.

Hayes’ path may seem unique, but many College of Arts and Sciences students spend more than four years on their journey to graduation and have careers that allow them to move far beyond their majors.  Some graduates may find themselves drawn back to school after earning a degree, while others use their liberal arts education to move into new fields and disciplines. To learn more about Hayes and how her College of Arts and Sciences degrees contribute to her current career, we asked her a few questions.

Tell us a little about yourself and your story.

I have a very convoluted history at IPFW. I started here as an undergraduate after high school, as a computer science major with a psychology minor. I worked on that degree many years until I got a co-op placement [similar to an internship] at ITT Aerospace. During that co-op I realized that computing was not my thing. I was doing the Y2K changeover, which was basically hours of changing two-digit dates to four digit dates. It was a miserable experience for me. But I had nearly earned my degree, so I changed my major to psychology and graduated within a year.

After graduation, I worked in job recruiting for a while. After an economic downturn, I returned to academia and worked as a recruiter at Ivy Tech Community College. Then I was hired at IPFW, where I got a job in admissions doing outreach. I was the lowest educated person on my team, so that’s when I decided to get my master’s degree in communication.

Soon after I graduated, I moved to Florida where I took a part-time job teaching communication. I had been contemplating going back to get my Ph.D. because there are limitations to teaching when you have a master’s degree. I met someone at a party and talked with her about my interest in communication and technology. It turned out that this woman actually worked in computer simulation, and they were working on a project that mapped human communication characteristics to robots in order to train them to communicate more like humans. I thought it was fascinating. I told her about my background in computer science, and she encouraged me to apply as a researcher. So I applied and was accepted.

After working as a researcher, I thought the work was interesting. In the same building where I was doing research, there was a Ph.D. program for modelling and simulation. On my lunch break, I went down to ask about it. It turns out simulation is the intersection of humans and technology because you’re basically simulating human behavior with computers. You’re digitally creating human characteristics and behaviors. It’s like you’re creating the world, and you need a very thorough understanding of the world, so psychology and communication knowledge is extremely helpful. But you also have to have knowledge of technology and development. I had no idea that this even existed, but it sounded like it was made for my background. So I applied for the program and was accepted.

How do you use your communication and psychology knowledge while working with modelling and simulation?

For me, communication and psychology were really useful because human computer interaction (HCI) is about the technology, but it’s also about humans. A lot of computer development companies are hiring people, and they’re specifically asking that people have an HCI background or user sensor design background. They want developers who understand users and understand human limitations and capacity, so that we can develop things optimally for people to use. One of the biggest problems companies talk about in the implementation of these systems is just training users, and a big part of training comes with the development and thinking about how hard or how easy are you going to make this for users. Is this going to be intuitive? To build something intuitively, you have to understand what intuitive is and what people expect.

The best innovations are the ones that make you think “oh, duh. Of course! That’s so obvious. Why didn’t we always do that?” You get those by watching what people intuitively want to do. Focusing on human behavior is a big part of both communication and psychology. Computer science is more development and understanding the limitations of technology, and how to make the technology do what you want. You really need to understand both to be an effective developer and problem-solver.

I feel like this is exactly where I needed to be. It’s like I’ve blossomed into this professional that I imagined. IPFW is a place where, when you’re from here you think, “Oh, that’s just like the back-up school. I don’t really want to go there.” I understand wanting to leave, but the opportunities and the grooming that I’ve gotten at IPFW have enabled me to become this professional. I’ve been at international conferences speaking intelligently about my discipline, I have relationships with professors at Stanford, and I’ve been funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. My professors and the opportunities I was given at IPFW helped make everything possible.

Do you have advice for people who want to switch fields?

The biggest piece of advice that I always give and that I got years ago is imagine what you would like to be in five years, the thing that sets your soul on fire. Then you do backwards planning and think “how can I make that a reality?” You have to go far enough away; you can’t be like, “well in three weeks, I’d like to have a job at NASA.” But in ten years, just about anyone could achieve that goal in some way. You should be open-minded about the possibilities, and understand that your plan might not go the way you thought but then figure out a real plan to achieve your goal.