Dr. Juan E. Gilbert has long been accustomed to the surprised looks of freshmen taking his computer science classes at Auburn University in Alabama. “They’re not familiar with many Blacks in a computer science class, much less having a professor who is Black,” says Gilbert, who joined the faculty a year and a half ago. The 32-year-old computer scientist had the opportunity, the talent and affinity to pursue his studies in technology. Gilbert now is making a name for himself with his research in instructional technology that is relevant to African American students. Gilbert’s dissertation focused on creating a Web-based tutoring program that adapts to accommodate multiple learning styles. His work is key for the much-touted Institute for African American Eculture (iAAEC), a multidisciplinary group of African American computer scientists, educators and others. Last year the National Science Foundation awarded a $3.1 million five-year grant to iAAEC for research, including developing new ways for African Americans to use information technology. Gilbert’s research has focused on human-computer interaction, or “artificial intelligence.”Ultimately he wants to help make information technology a relevant part of the African American community. Gilbert says a turning point in his career was meeting Dr. Bryant York, now a professor at Northeastern University and the principal investigator of the grant project.“He helped me develop my research interest and has been a primary support in an atmosphere that can sometimes be sink or swim,” Gilbert says. “I don’t think things would have happened this fast in my work without his support.” He also credits Dr. David Haddad, dean of the School of Applied Science at Miami University when Gilbert was a student there, with giving him his best career advice. “He was the one who told me I would be a good professor,” Gilbert says. “Before that, the thought had never entered my mind. I was thinking of a corporate job. This has been a perfect fit for me.” — By Eleanor Lee Yates
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