Saiph Savage, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor in Computer Science

"It's about getting the best out of each person."

When one thinks of engineering, the ability to coordinate citizens and volunteers to make a difference in their communities isn’t normally what first comes to mind.

Saiph Savage, West Virginia University assistant professor of computer science, wants to change that by making the Human Computer Interaction Laboratory at WVU a leader in social engineering for the rural sector.

As a J. Wayne and Kathy Richards Faculty Fellow in Engineering, Savage has been granted funding to grow the Human Computer Interaction Lab and carry out research with students related to the creation of platforms that help citizens connect with one another in order to build stronger communities.

“It’s about getting the best out of each person and coordinating people online who want to better their environment,” Savage said.

These types of platforms help citizens communicate more efficiently and open doors for them to ignite change in their communities. Savage says that there are numerous causes that can benefit from this technology, ranging from the improvement of streets and the fighting of corruption, to citizens detecting and taking action on fake news and the ability for citizens to produce their own technology to produce efficient energy.

Savage, who graduated with her master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science from the University of California, Santa Barbara, said West Virginia opened her eyes to the potential rural communities have.

“The problem is that, a lot of times, rural communities have different needs than what city people have,” Savage said. “But the problem is that the people who are designing the technology are usually from the city, and so it’s very hard for them to really understand, ‘Okay, for rural communities, we really need to design technology this way.’”

She believes the opportunity to further research at WVU related to social engineering for rural communities is a great way to position WVU as a university that is innovating in the rural sector and perhaps making it a technological force.

“I think it’s a really good opportunity to start to see the rural sector as, not something that is forgotten, but something that is modern in its own way. Imagine that we are able to coordinate these rural communities. West Virginia could have a lot of growth and potentially more job opportunities,” Savage said.

Although a majority of Savage’s students are not from rural areas, she says that her students are very conscious of the need to focus on these communities and in West Virginia in particular.

“I think they are really conscious that we need to help the state,” Savage said. “They do have the vision that we have to work together and they are very well aware that we need to be doing active things for West Virginia.”

Additionally, some of the fellowship funding will be used to help pay for conference attendance and other networking activities, which will help Savage and her student researchers to spread the word regarding their work and their growing lab.

Funding for the J. Wayne and Kathy Richards Faculty Fellow program is provided through a gift from the Richards, which was made in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. The $1 billion comprehensive campaign being conducted by the WVU Foundation on behalf of the University runs through December 2017.