Interview by Megan Foo
Women LEAD: What is your background?
Adriane Randolph: I am a Black woman who grew up in the Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C. Area of the United States. My father was a Marine officer and my mother was the Head Media Specialist (a.k.a. Librarian) for a public high school. I attended a public magnet school for science and technology, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST), which is consistently one of the top five high schools in the United States. After high school, I received my B.S. in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia (UVA), worked for several years as an Information Technology Consultant with Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting), and then returned to academia for my Ph.D. in Computer Information Systems at Georgia State University. Because both of my parents, also both Black, had their Masters degrees, I felt I at least had to achieve that level of education. It was imperative to them that I get a graduate degree – it ended up being my choosing to go all the way to the doctoral degree.
I always had an aptitude for math – I loved it and could really retain formulas and the process for solving complex problems. I was also quite social; I was class president all four years of high school, on the dance team, and led various student initiatives in college. Further, I loved art; I saw a strong connection between art and design and the incredible artwork posted in the hallways of TJHSST is what helped me to know I was in the right place. The best combination I saw of these loves was to focus on the design aspects of technology, in particular the user interface where I interacted with people and helped translate their needs into a working system.
Women LEAD: You are the Director of the KSU BrainLab, which is currently conducting groundbreaking research to developing solutions for brain-computer interfacing. Can you tell us a bit about this research project?
Adriane Randolph: A brain-computer interface (BCI) provides a path to control computers and other devices and for understanding human mental states based on detecting small changes in electro- and psychophysiological characteristics of the brain. Brain-computer interfaces are an invaluable resource for people who lack the physical ability to control their muscles. While most people would be considered able-bodied (i.e., they can manipulate objects around them without assistance) there are some in this world who suffer from a condition called locked-in syndrome. Half a million people worldwide are locked-in, or completely paralyzed and unable to speak. Often, diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), conditions such as Cerebral Palsy, accidents that cause severe motor disabilities, and strokes result in a person becoming locked-in. The person remains mentally active and completely aware but has lost all voluntary muscular control. Some internal input to an external computer or device is the last frontier for the person’s communication and control. These same recording technologies used for control may also be used to understand a person’s thoughts. By uncovering mainstream applications for using this technology, the individuals who truly need it will benefit.
The mission of the KSU BrainLab is to discover impactful solutions for brain-computer interfaces by uncovering the underlying characteristics that affect users’ responses and control. We are working to design and develop real-world systems that enable people to control computers and other devices using neurophysiological input and to explain individual behaviors in various settings. Projects have included: examining home use of brain-computer interfaces, a neuromarketing study examining brand placement in different media vehicles, working with the Sales Center at KSU to understand the differences between novice and expert salespersons by examining their patterns of thought, and an effort to develop an interface for Google Glasses that uses brainwaves to control it.
Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you in your life?
Adriane Randolph: I am thankful that there are several women who have impacted me. The first being my strong mother who always supported education. The second was a woman at UVA, Dr. Ingrid Soudek-Townsend, who encouraged me to get a doctoral degree. The third and most key, is my doctoral advisor, Dr. Melody Moore Jackson who currently directs the Georgia Tech BrainLab but founded and directed the original BrainLab at Georgia State University. Without her, I would not be conducting research in the area of brain-computer interfaces. She was a pioneer in computer science in industry, one of the few in a computing doctoral program, and an original researcher for real-world applications of neural-based technology. She was selfless in allowing me to pursue opportunities in the field that were of personal interest. She continues to serve as a mentor for me who is just a text message away.
Women LEAD: What does girls’ education mean to you?
Adriane Randolph: Girls’ education means shaping what my now two-year-old daughter will receive and helping to provide the means for her and others like her to be able to be their complete selves. Although life may be filled with challenges (and certainly joys), no one can ever take your education from you. Someone might omit your title, but the learning still exists. That knowledge fuels an inner-confidence that can never be stolen.
Women LEAD: Why is empowering women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) important to you?
Adriane Randolph: This is my personal journey from middle school to now. Middle school is where I had to make sure I was tracking into Pre-Calculus to be eligible for the curriculum at TJHSST, and I had to complete a science fair project else my science teacher was holding hostage his recommendation into the program. At that time, I didn’t even know if I wanted to attend the “geek school,” but thank goodness my good friend living down the street, also a female, knew better than me. She was a Puerto Rican girl who was a year ahead of me. So, we were both challenging assumptions not just for women but also for underrepresented minorities.
Women LEAD: What needs to change to bridge the gender gap in STEM subjects and careers from this generation of women?
Adriane Randolph: Girls need a push early on to just “try it” without feeling like they are railroading their lives into the nether regions of “geekdom.” Perhaps seeing examples of socially-relevant projects that are STEM-based would help make the tie to areas we may naturally feel ourselves gravitating towards. Girls may not need to feel pushed by their parents, but their parents need to be educated about the opportunities tied to STEM curriculum, majors, and careers. Further, socially, girls need to see their friends or others they respect getting into these areas. I believe it would ignite from there.
Women LEAD: What advice would you give to girls and women who are interested in pursuing a career in STEM-related fields?
Adriane Randolph: Bring a friend along and the path won’t seem so daunting. Then, everyone wins! Try out a summer program often offered by universities to get your toes wet. Get involved in student chapters of larger technology-based groups. For example, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) has NSBE-Junior chapters.