The Graduate School Medal is given "to recognize Ph.D. candidates whose academic expertise and social awareness are integrated in a way that demonstrates an exemplary commitment to the University and its larger community." One doctoral student is chosen annually to receive the award.
Jill Palzkill Woelfer's commitment to helping homeless youth and her dissertation research about the use and access to technology by these young people, made her work stand out to the selection committee.
"Like all young people, homeless young people use personal technologies, such as mobile phones and music players, and information systems such as MySpace and Facebook," says Woelfer. "But the role of these technologies is not understood by agencies that assist them. Consequently, agencies often restrict use or access to these technologies."
Woelfer's own background combines interests in music, art and technology. She earned her Master's of Science in Information Management at the UW Information School (iSchool) and decided to continue on with doctoral work.
She is currently on a Fulbright Student Award in Vancouver, B.C., where she is working on her dissertation research, which engages 200 homeless young people and will share data with a study at the University of Southern California. The shared data will include factors related to technology use, risk-taking behaviors, mental health, and music preferences.
Previously, Woelfer and David G. Hendry, an associate professor at the iSchool, co-created a community technology center through a partnership with Street Youth Ministries and a $35,000 state grant. The center offered computer-related life skills classes designed to engage and educate street youth about using technology to help them find employment. The center was an inspiration for a current project funded by the National Science Foundation where Woelfer and Hendry are working to develop the social and technical aspects of a system that will help homeless young people find and keep jobs.
Woelfer is using her experience in Seattle and in Vancouver, B.C. as an inspiration for her dissertation research - a comparative study of the role of music in the lives of homeless young people in these two cities. She plans to collaborate with homeless young people in Seattle and Vancouver to develop public exhibits of design drawings and stories created as part of her dissertation research. Through these exhibits, the youth will remain anonymous while speaking directly to people in their communities about the role of technology and music in their everyday lives.
"After all these years, I cannot think of a better way to spend my life," reflects Woelfer. "It is an honor to be recognized by the UW Graduate School for my work."