Jennifer Palilonis was a self-described non-traditional Ph.D. student in the Human-Computer Interaction program at the IU School of Informatics and Computing (SoIC) at IUPUI in 2010. At the time, she was already a tenured professor at Ball State University, teaching full time, married with young children, and commuting from Muncie for classes. Prior to that she had been working as a journalist and had never contemplated a Ph.D. in that field, saying “I learned about the SoIC at IU and suddenly a whole new set of possibilities surfaced.”
She says, “I always tell people, I didn’t get a Ph.D. because I needed the degree, I got the Ph.D. because I was really interested in learning the subject matter….” Palilonis says the HCI degree is relevant to journalism because much of that field has been dramatically affected by the web, especially visual journalism. She adds that digital product development is in fact a huge focus in many media environments and HCI has a lot to offer, especially when it comes to teaching students interested in building cross-platform experiences.
Palilonis, who completed her Ph.D. in 2015, says the experience was exhausting and challenging, but she was careful to avoid the “I can’t wait until this is over mentality,” instead taking each semester, each class, each day, each assignment one moment at a time to avoid being overwhelmed. She says she loved all of her classes—especially her research rotations—and applied what she was learning to her own research. HCC Department Chair Davide Bolchini was the chair of her dissertation committee. “I also had several classes with him and consider him a great mentor and collaborator,” she says.
Her path to SoIC began after graduating from Ball State with her degree in journalism and then working at the Detroit Free Press and the Chicago Sun-Times in various positions. Along the way she instructed a newspaper design class at Wayne State University, which led to an adjunct position in Chicago and teaching summer High School Journalism Workshops at Ball State. In 2001, she applied for the position of Instructor and Journalism Graphics Sequence coordinator at Ball State, earning tenure in 2009. In 2015, Palilonis launched the Center for Emerging Media Design & Development. EMDD is a graduate program and undergraduate major focused on design thinking, transmedia storytelling, and human-computer interaction. She has also been a media design consultant, redesigning more than 30 newspapers and news websites across the country.
“…our approach to HCI is through the lens of strategic communication and experience design. There’s a ton of opportunity for people in those fields to expand their knowledge, skillsets, and ability to innovate when they add principles and practices of HCI, like usability, user experience, user-centered design, etc. to their repertoire,” Palilonis explains.
Palilonis is now involved in several high-profile projects: developing a cross-platform exhibition for David Letterman memorabilia shared with Ball State that chronicles his life and career; developing a digital literacy curriculum for grades K-5 for the Professor Garfield’s 21st Century Literacy Project, a partnership between EMDD, the Professor Garfield Foundation, and Jim Davis; and developing a documentary on the growth of boys’ and men’s’ volleyball in the U.S., a collaborative effort between EMDD, the USA men’s Olympic volleyball team, and the First Point Volleyball Foundation.
Also of note was her leadership of the Blue Roots Project, a partnership with Circle of Blue, a non-profit that covers the global water and energy crisis. Her students developed a social media campaign and design challenge that collected stories from around the world on the value of water in people’s lives. The team was invited to Rome to assist with World Water Day at the Vatican.
In 2012-13, Palilonis was honored with the National Journalism & Mass Communication Teacher of the Year: Charles E. Scripps Award by the Scripps Howard Foundation. In August 2019, she will receive the Ball State’s Rawlings Outstanding Distance Education Teaching Award, which honors the “faculty member who has proven to be the most dedicated to teaching extended education courses at off-campus distance education sites.” This is in recognition of the development and success of the EMDD low-residency program for mid-career professionals that is partially online and partially taught at the BSU Fishers Center for Academic and Economic Innovation.