Student champions using tech for the greater good
Fox School of Business senior Allyson Yu earns first place student research award at international accessibility conference
In March 2020, Allyson Yu was in the midst of her first year as a Temple University student. She was settling in, enjoy her coursework and fully embracing the metropolitan setting that was one of the primary drivers behind her enrolling at Temple.
Then, without warning, the world shut down.
“It was really, really hard for everyone. I had been looking for a city atmosphere and also a school that had a lot of different avenues to explore, and that is what brought me to Temple,” said Yu, who is a native of Reading, Pa. “But if there was one silver lining, this was what really started to introduce me to tech. Within days, we were able to seamlessly transition coursework to a virtual environment, and this showed me how technology really has the capability to help others.”
This transition to remote learning ultimately led Yu, who was initially a biology and visual studies major, to change her major to Management Information Systems (MIS) where she has continued to explore how technology can improve the lives of others. Her undergraduate research project has focused on how institutions can improve learning environments for students with disabilities who choose to study in STEM-related fields, and even as student, she is already beginning to reap the benefits of her work.
Last year, Yu entered her research project “Challenges and Opportunities in Creating An Accessible Web Application for Learning Organic Chemistry” in the 24th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility, a conference held in Athens, Greece. Yu ended up earning first place in the undergraduate category of the conference’s Student Research Competition.
“The overarching idea of the project is looking at how can we remove barriers for students for students with disabilities in STEM fields,” Yu said. “What we have found is that students with disabilities show a high interest in STEM fields in high school but then it dissipates a bit in higher ed. So essentially, my project focused on first learning what students need for support and then developing a web application that can help in this regard.”
The application that Yu helped develop was WebORA, a website that helps organic chemistry students learn by interacting with 3D molecular reactions. The project, which received the support of a Creative Arts Research and Scholarship (CARAS) grant from Temple, is somewhat of a full-circle moment for Yu as it represents the full genesis of her academic journey.
As a first-year student at Temple, Yu worked in Professor of Organic Chemistey Steven A Fleming’s lab, which was developing a 3D molecular application. That application served as springboard for WebORA, which was further informed and enriched thanks to Yu's user experience and web development coursework that she gained as an MIS student.
As part of her study, Yu surveyed more than 50 students who were taking an organic chemistry course, and 12 of those students took part in a usability tests via WebORA. Overall, the application was well received, though one of the recommendations of the study would be expand the app for additional STEM-related fields other than just organic chemistry.
“This whole thing was just really fulfilling. I felt very proud of myself, too, and I think this is a cause that we need to spread more awareness of,” Yu said. “One thing that also came out of this is that I came to learn how much Temple already has in place. Temple’s Office of Disability Resources and Services (DRS) has so many resources available, and I am grateful to know that students who need support here will be able to find it thanks to DRS."