ATEC Welcomes Dr. Josef Nguyen

Dr. Josef Nguyen

The School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication has welcomed a new tenure-track faculty member to its staff this fall.

Dr. Josef Nguyen, an expert in play and game studies, comes to UT Dallas from the University of California, Davis, where he was affiliated with the ModLab, an experimental lab for media research and digital humanities. Embodying ATEC’s interdisciplinary nature, Nguyen’s research interests lie at the intersection of technology, literature and digital media.

“ATEC faculty model how to collaborate across differences as they demonstrate deep expertise, intellectual flexibility and collegial open-mindedness,” said Dr. Anne Balsamo, dean of the school. “Collaboration across differences changes the conversation for everyone. Dr. Nguyen is a perfect fit to the ATEC philosophy.”

In 2015, the University announced the creation of the school, which offers degrees in emerging media and communication and arts and technology,  in response to the growth in both the arts and technology and emerging media and communication programs. Last spring, 1,195 undergraduates, 119 master’s students and 25 doctoral candidates were enrolled in the programs.

“The School of Arts, Technology and Emerging Communication is a destination for artists, designers, scholars, researchers, and reflective practitioners who seek to collaborate on intentional future-making through the creation of new cultural forms, the design of new technological experiences, the production of new knowledge, and the transformation of culture industries,” Balsamo said.

The school is housed in the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building, which holds classrooms for game design, 2-D and 3-D art studios, a motion capture lab, a recording studio and 3-D fabrication labs.

New Tenure-Track Faculty

Dr. Josef Nguyen, assistant professor of arts and technology

Previously: doctoral candidate at the University of California, Davis

Research interests: play and game studies, digital media and culture, science and technology studies, contemporary literature, cultural constructions of creativity and innovation

Quote: “I am excited to join the UT Dallas community through the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication. I look forward to the collaborative learning and research environment here that will allow me to investigate how the decisions involved in the design, development, circulation, engagement, and disposal of digital media are always political. I am particularly eager to work with students and fellow faculty on assignments and projects that integrate rigorous critical analysis with thoughtful and socially conscious design.”

New Faculty Series

News Center is publishing profiles of tenured and tenure-track professors who have recently joined the University. The following school profiles have been published:

UX Design Marks Its Spot as Growing Career Path for ATEC Students

Cassini Nazir, clinical associate professor in the arts and technology program and director of design and research for the ArtSciLab, trains students in user experience design. “If businesses exist in a digital space — be it a website, app, digital kiosk — they need to invest in good design,” he said.

From Dell Technologies to Capital One, companies that rely on the use of intuitive customer experiences are finding a wealth of talented designers among students and alumni from theSchool of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at UT Dallas.

The ArtSciLab — the school’s transdisciplinary research lab focused on the intersection of art and science — is immersing students into the field of user experience, or UX, design.

Cassini Nazir, clinical associate professor in the arts and technology (ATEC) program and director of design and research for the lab, said UT Dallas is emerging as a leader in UX education in North Texas.

“There’s a growing trend in more courses focused on user experience (UX) design and interaction design at colleges across the nation,” he said. “Many of these concepts have come out of human computer interaction concepts, but design research and UX have really emerged as disciplines in their own right. Industry has helped by investing in design researchers and user experience designers in their spaces.”

Nazir said more companies, both established and startup, are employing a design-centric ethos, cognizant of the role UX plays in customer relations.

The Design Value Index — an evolving metric that tracks the value of companies that meet specific design-related criteria — showed in 2014 that 15 design-driven companies had outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index by 228 percent over 10 years.

Several enterprise-level companies such as Intuit and Sabre want to work with the ATEC program to recruit talent, he said.

“UTD has really benefited from it because there’s a boom of businesses setting up offices in Dallas,” said Nazir, who is part of the Dallas Design Council. “Many of those companies have been hiring teams of designers, and we’ve been successful in filling those needs.”

Emerging media and communication senior Lina Moon was selected to be a part of Capital One’s inaugural Design Development Program, where she will spend two years learning about different fields such as interaction design and coding.

Clear Line to Job Opportunities

The lab has had students move into design positions at companies such as Sabre, Cisco Systems, AT&T, Siemens, General Motors, Fossil and J.C. Penney.

Debi Terry Ndindjock BA’13, a digital experience designer at Dell, first gained an interest in UX design while taking the interaction design course as a sophomore.

Ndindjock considered herself as purely a graphic designer, but she said she was intrigued by the psychological aspects of design, realizing UX design merges the two concepts.

“The turning point was when (design consultant) Stephen Anderson visited our class and spoke about his work,” she said. “I knew that was what I wanted to do. Since it is a relatively new field, we get a part in defining the industry as a whole.

“UX design requires such varied skills and education: visual design, writing, research and technology. You get to get in where you fit in.”

Cathryn Ploehn BA’14 said the same course — taught by Nazir — also propelled her into the field. Ploehn also served as designer for the ArtSciLab.

“Cassini’s enthusiasm was a gateway to taking further related courses, and finally a capstone in UX,” she said. “The application of the concept of empathy to design and development captivated me.”

Ploehn, who manages UX design problems and data visualization for Visionist Inc., said that developing a sense of empathy is fundamental to what makes user experiences successful.

“Really listen to what a person says to you both inside and outside of a user research setting,” she said. “Try to feel what it is like to be somebody else. Practice by exposing yourself to points of view beyond your comfort zone.”

For senior and UX Club president Lina Moon, there wasn’t an aha moment that led to an interest in UX design.

“I think being part of the UX Club as an officer and working in the ArtSciLab really gave me the confidence to pursue the field further, as it gave me a good support network and provided me access to more collective knowledge,” Moon said.

In July, Moon started a full-time position with Capital One’s inaugural Design Development Program.

The two-year program pairs students and recent graduates with a mentor who guides new associates through different fields such as interaction design and coding.

The growing demand for UX designers can be attributed, at least in part, to the growing demands of consumers of digital products. Nazir said designers often play the role of customer lobbyist, researching and voicing the needs of consumers to their business.

“Audience expectations of what constitutes a good experience are now much higher than they were in the past,” he said. “If businesses exist in a digital space — be it a website, app, digital kiosk — they need to invest in good design.”

A Class Act: Design Research Workshop with UTD’s UX Club

The projekt202 team went back to school recently to coach the next class of UX designers.

The UX Club at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) hosted projekt202 for an interactive Design Research Workshop on March 31. Senior UX Designer Chelsea Maxwell, Experience Researcher Nick Ansel, Talent Coordinator Jessica Hart and Vice President of Customer Experience Jeremy Johnson shared their expertise in conducting research and the many ways it informs the design process.


The collaborative session helped UTD students investigate and answer research-driven questions such as: Who are the customers and users of our technology? What do they actually need? What methods help reveal those needs? How does research fit into the design process?

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In one exercise, students were asked to “design a hat” with no other guidance or restrictions. The attendees’ heady imaginations were brimming with creations of all shapes, sizes, colors and purposes.

To top things off, however, few of the designs could really meet a specific user’s needs. This was an important and enlightening “aha!” moment: students realized that without research to guide design, they were simply throwing out prototypes to see what might work.

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At another point in the workshop, students interviewed Nick about his daily trip to work, then watched a video of his actual commute.

There were notable differences between the interview and the real-world observations. Like many users in similar interview situations, Nick didn’t mention details that would be critical in solving commuting-related problems. By simple observation, however, these factors were easily discovered.

Using their interview and observational notes, UX Club members performed Affinity Diagramming to develop high-level insights that would inform their designs. They then wireframed creative and innovative mobile apps to make workday trips easier and more efficient for frustrated commuters.


“It was a treat helping students bring theory into practice,” Nick said. “It’s great to see such curious and passionate students make the most out of their interest in UX. It reassures me of the bright future ahead for the experience design community.”

A bright, experience-driven future is a large part of the mission of the UX Club. It envisions the reality of its students playing crucial roles in Dallas design.

The student professional club actively works to increase awareness of user-centered design. To understand and create well-designed experiences, the UX Club provides its members with opportunities — such as the projekt202 Design Research Workshop — to network with industry leaders around Dallas-Fort Worth.

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As Chelsea explained to the group, projekt202’s methodology and best practices are easily applied to the students’ coursework and personal projects, enabling them to strengthen their portfolios and experience.

“What’s really awesome is that schools are starting to catch up with what is going on in the industry,” she said. “Previously, in regards to technology, what schools were teaching and what skills were needed by employers were miles apart. We’re starting to see that change — for example, with the UX Club and courses offered in design.”


Jessica said, “It was exciting to watch them take in our methods — interviewing, affinity diagramming, wireframing — and contribute their own ideas to solve real-world problems in innovative ways. The big takeaway of the evening for them was that observing users is absolutely crucial to strong design.”


With a passion for changing the experiences people have with all aspects of technology, the projekt202 team members appreciated the opportunity to share their professional insights.

“Working with such a bright and curious group is always rewarding. It keeps me sharp while also nurturing the profession with critical knowledge-sharing activities,” Nick said. “I was honored to share what makes projekt202 such a great place to practice my craft: the culture, the work and a focus on bettering experiences everywhere.”

This article originally appeared in the projekt202 blog on April 7, 2016.

projekt202 sincerely thanks the members of the UX Club, and the students and faculty of The University of Texas at Dallas.

Photos courtesy of Jessica Hart, Jeremy Johnson and the UX Club at UT Dallas

ATEC Team Creates Exercises in Science with Museum Video Games

Feral hogs are destroying local farms, colonies of bees are disappearing and giant asteroids are on a collision course with Earth. But there’s hope: You can help solve these problems by playing the newest video games developed by UT Dallas students.

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science and the University’s Arts and Technology (ATEC) program have collaborated during the past nine months to create a series of educational games that emphasize the importance of STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The results of this collaboration are on display in the Game Lab, a dedicated space in the Perot Museum that allows guests to play the games.

The games are intended to provide a fun, interactive learning experience that also enhances the understanding of science with simulations.

“Over the last several months, our teams have collaborated to create video games we believe can be fun, engaging platforms for exploring important real-world science topics,”said Steve Hinkley, vice president of programs for the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.

“Stop the Hogs” challenges players to prevent invading feral hogs from multiplying and devastating local farmlands.
“Stop the Hogs” challenges players to prevent invading feral hogs from multiplying and devastating local farmlands.

“Through this project, our guests will experience the unique creations of some of the next generation’s brightest minds — and the UT Dallas students have an opportunity to inspire tens of thousands of people through their work. It’s a winning combination for everyone involved.”

The games at the museum include: “Gravity Defense,” an interactive game where users save the Earth from asteroids by moving their bodies in an attempt to pull asteroids safely away from Earth; “Pollen Nation,” which allows players to control a collection of bee colonies to pollinate the United States — players do this while battling colony collapse disorder; and “Stop the Hogs,” which challenges players to prevent invading feral hogs from multiplying and devastating local farmlands.

The students started designing their games in the spring semester, with more than 20 initial ideas. With the help of ATEC professor Dr. Timothy Christopher and Bonnie Pitman, distinguished scholar in residence and co-director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Museums, the students narrowed their focus and developed the games. The class is spending the fall semester testing and implementing the games for public use at the museum.

Bonnie Pitman
Bonnie Pitman

“The creativity and responsiveness of ATEC students and the excellent collaboration with the Perot Museum’s staff led to the development and evaluation of new resources using technologies for teaching science in the museum,” Pitman said.

“It has also given the students an opportunity to work with a nationally recognized science museum and to test, revise and present their ideas with the public. UTD’s Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Museums has been an active collaborator in this initiative that supports the University’s partnerships with the museums in our communities.”

Graduate student Stephenie Edwards was one of the students involved in the yearlong project.

“Working with the Perot Museum has been an amazing experience,” Edwards said. “All of the students have worked hard to get these games into the Game Lab. Knowing that so many people will have a chance to play the games is a rewarding dream come true for a lot of students interesting in making games.”

ATEC Game Wins First Place at Medical Simulation Conference

A collaborative game-based simulation project between UT Dallas, UT Arlington and Baylor Scott & White Health that seeks to improve physician-nurse communication received first place at a serious games competition at the 14th Annual International Meeting on Simulation in Healthcare (IMSH).

GLIMPSE offers situational learning through conversations with the game's characters. Its players role play as medical professionals and must select appropriate responses to other nurses or physicians.
GLIMPSE offers situational learning through conversations with the game’s characters. Its players role play as medical professionals and must select appropriate responses to other nurses or physicians.

The project also won fourth place overall out of approximately 60 entries in the Technology Innovations Abstract Category at the conference.

A panel of judges selected GLIMPSE (A Game to Learn Important Communications Methods for Patient Safety Enhancement) for top honors in the Faculty Category of the IMSH Serious Games and Virtual Environments Showcase and Arcade, the world’s largest conference on simulation in health care.

Dr. Marjorie Zielke
Dr. Marjorie Zielke

A UT Dallas team led by Dr. Marjorie Zielke, assistant professor of Arts and Technology and director of ATEC’s Virtual Humans and Synthetic Societies Lab, developed the game in collaboration with Dr. Mary E Mancini, associate dean and chair for undergraduate nursing programs at UT Arlington; Dr. Yan Xiao, Baylor’s director of patient safety research; and Dr. Susan Houston, Baylor’s director of nursing research.

“The overall track record we have with our game-based simulations and the international recognition we are receiving is very gratifying, particularly when the subject matter is as challenging as it is in GLIMPSE,” Zielke said. “As always, we owe our continuing success to the project team and the great faculty, staff and students involved in these important research projects. The encouragement and support we get from our administration is also critical.”

Mancini is the project’s principal investigator.

“Our hope is that this project will enhance patient safety and, ultimately, improve patient outcomes,” Mancini said. “Being honored by the judges at this year’s International Meeting on Simulation in Healthcare tells us that the virtual learning environment we’ve built is among the very best in terms of content and design.”

Dr. Katie White, secretary for the Serious Games and Virtual Environments Interest Group that organizes the IMSH competition, praised the quality of the entries.

“The entries for this year’s arcade were technologically sophisticated and innovative in the way that they combined gaming concepts and clinical teaching,” White said. “It’s great to see the game developers improve their products from year to year and to see the growth of the arcade into a fun place for IMSH attendees to be introduced to serious games as a teaching tool.”

The overall track record we have with our game-based simulations and the international recognition we are receiving is very gratifying, particularly when the subject matter is as challenging as it is in GLIMPSE.

Dr. Marjorie Zielke,
assistant professor of Arts and Technology and director of ATEC’s Virtual Humans and Synthetic Societies Lab

The project, funded by a grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, started with the development of a communications curriculum based on a research study involving physicians and nurses at two Baylor Scott & White hospitals. The goal is to improve the patient experience by improving communication between physicians and nurses. Results of evaluation of the game will be made available later this year when insights and effects of the game are analyzed on a deeper level for education, behavioral changes and improved learning potential.

“A great deal of health care errors are due to miscommunication between physicians and nurses, which can present patient safety issues,” said Houston. “The nurses and physicians who played the game were extremely supportive. Overall, the collegiality and collaboration has been wonderful in an effort to pull off this three-year project. Ideally, we will see the long-term effects, not only just in the results of this study, but through a marked decrease in health care errors that occur due to miscommunication.”

GLIMPSE also was selected in December 2013 as a finalist in another serious games contest at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), the world’s largest modeling and simulation conference. Game-based simulations developed in the VHSS Lab have been recognized with nine major awards since 2010.

Tech Executive to Discuss Future of the Cloud

UT Dallas alumnus and tech executive Christian Belady MA’90 provides a voice from technology on Feb. 26, as part of the ATEC Distinguished Lecture Series.

Belady is general manager of Data Center Services for Microsoft’s Global Foundation Services and a key player in shaping the direction of cloud computing, which is changing the way people, businesses and organizations store and organize mass amounts of digital information.

Specifically, Belady is responsible for driving the strategy and delivery of server and facility development worldwide, including research, engineering, construction and operations for Microsoft’s data center portfolio.

These data centers provide the foundational cloud infrastructure for more than 200 of Microsoft’s online and cloud services for consumers and businesses worldwide.

Before joining Microsoft, Belady worked as a distinguished technologist for Hewlett-Packard, where he was responsible for driving the technological direction of the company’s server products and their environments, as well as industry data center initiatives.  His previous employers include Convex Computers, Texas Instruments and IBM.

Christian Belady MA’90

In 2010, SearchData named Belady as one of “5 People Who Changed the Data Center” industry and helped drive innovative thinking and quantitative benchmarking in the field.

With more than 100 U.S. patents and many international patents, Belady is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and of the International Microelectronics Assembly and Packaging Society.

Belady holds engineering degrees from Cornell University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He attended the UT Dallas Naveen Jindal School of Management, where he received a master’s degree in international management studies in 1990. He served two years on the board of UT Dallas’ former alumni association, including one year as president. In 2010, he received the UT Dallas Distinguished Alumni award.

1st Lecture in ATEC Series Brought Sold-Out Crowd; Campus Readies for Next Speaker

Robert Edsel was living in Florence, Italy, when he took the first steps toward discovering a cause that would drive the next 15 years of his life.

Before a sold-out audience of 1,200 people in the new Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building at UT Dallas, Edsel recently described his journey through time, history and heroism in the rescue of thousands of art treasures.

He explained how his curiosity led him to a previously untold story about American volunteers during World War II who tracked and retrieved artworks stolen by the Nazi war machine. Edsel documented their plight in his book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. During his talk, he showed clips from actor and director George Clooney’s movie, The Monuments Men, which is based on the book and is set to premiere in February.

Edsel was the first speaker in the new ATEC Distinguished Lecture Series. The series is designed to illuminate the concepts behind the merger of art and technology and to serve as a creative spark for the North Texas region.

Tickets are still available for the rest of the series, including appearances by tech executive and UT Dallas alumnus Christian Belady on Feb. 26; Vinton G. Cerf, a “father of the Internet,” on March 26; and scientist and astronaut Mae Jemison on April 16. All of the lectures begin at 7 p.m.

During his visit to campus, Edsel also met privately with students and faculty from the School of Arts and Humanities and from the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies. Over doughnuts and coffee, students asked detailed questions about the Monuments Men.

Edsel met privately before his lecture with students and faculty.

“It was remarkable to hear about the noble cause of soldiers, who were art lovers, and were charged with saving cultural treasures stolen by the Nazis rather than destroying it,” said Sarah Valente, a PhD student and Belofsky Graduate Fellow from the Ackerman Center. “Stories like this are very rare, so it is always compelling to hear a story of redemption, of soldiers putting their lives on the line to save art, trying to recover what was lost, and being able to locate objects and saving them for generations to come.”

During a private reception, Edsel said he hoped the film will “shake the snow globe of questions on cultural property, ownership, restitution issues, the museums’ responsibilities and international law” and that it helps to preserve the legacy of the Monuments Men.

Alumnus’ Work Featured in Award-Winning ‘Issues’ Journal


The work of alumnus Paul Slocum (BS ’01) is featured in the fall 2013 issue of Issues in Science and Technology, an award-winning journal of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and The University of Texas at Dallas.

Paul Slocum is an artist, software developer, curator and musician. He previously directed a new media art gallery in Dallas called And/Or Gallery and is now operating an iOS software company in Brooklyn called SOFTOFT TECHECH that creates music and art apps.

Slocum’s work, featured on page 96 of the magazine, was made by extruding the time domain sequences of Conway’s Game of Life, a cellular automaton devised by the British mathematician John Horton Conway in 1970.

Time is equated to the Z-axis and then rendered in a ray tracer. Each frame of the Game of Life sequence becomes a layer in a stack to form a complex static object.


In 2007, Slocum was listed in The Dallas Morning News‘ “Quick’s Five To Watch: Artists on the Verge,” as “promising young visual artists, each of whom has a solid local reputation or is on the verge of statewide or national recognition.”

He has performed music and exhibited artwork internationally at numerous venues including The New Museum of Contemporary Art and Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York, The National Center for the Arts in Mexico City, README Software Art Conference in Denmark, The Liverpool Biennial, Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, The Dallas Museum of Art and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.


ATEC Prof to Take Clinical Concepts to Virtual World

Assistant Professor Marjorie Zielke has been awarded a three-year, $350,000 grant to create online training in neonatal nursing through an ongoing collaboration with the UT Arlington School of Nursing (UTASON).

“Student learning will be enriched by faculty perspectives from across the country,” Marjorie Zielke said of her project.

Zielke, with Arts and Technology (ATEC) faculty members Monica Evans, Frank Dufour and Todd Fechter, will build a Web site that allows student nurses to be taught concurrently by faculty from Dartmouth University, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, the University of Texas at Arlington and Stony Brook University School of Nursing in New York.  The new research enhances subject matter review and creates a more portable learning experience.

“Student learning will be enriched by faculty perspectives from across the country,” said Zielke. “Students also will benefit from the social community of other graduate-level nursing students through this virtual learning environment.”

The course subject matter covers conditions in fetuses and babies under 2 years old.  Students can download a lecture as a podcast or video, and then follow up with a virtual examination of an infant in a no-risk environment. The virtual environment allows for endless practice and limitless scenarios in a risk-free environment. For instance, the instructor can program symptoms such as respiratory distress into a 3D model, rather than teach based on the conditions of patients visiting a clinic or hospital on a given day.

ATEC students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels also will participate in this project, performing research, modeling, animation, story development and computer programming.

Research project sponsors are the UTASON, with principal investigator Dr. Judy Leflore, and the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Professor Zielke is thinking beyond the virtual classroom. In addition to her work on grants from The University of Texas System and other healthcare organizations, she plans to create a virtual baby, which is difficult because of the current technology used to capture motion. A researcher cannot, for instance, direct an infant to raise its right arm so that the cameras and computers can capture every nuance of the movement as a basis for animation.

“We like to take on complex projects that no one really knows how to do,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in being able to represent humans virtually, both physically and cognitively. Representing non-verbal communication is especially challenging.  This line of research has the potential to make a major difference in the way online medical education and medical simulations are done today.”