UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — After a romantic breakup, there are often decisions to be made regarding the partners’ shared possessions, such as who takes the house and who gets the cat. Similar things happen with the people in their lives, who tend to choose sides and continue a friendship with only one of the partners.
IST experience leads to alumnus’ work exploring breakups in the digital age
Anthony Pinter's doctoral research focuses on issues regarding life transitions and identity
But when it comes to navigating a breakup in the digital age, a clean break isn’t necessarily as clear cut. With social media sites leveraging connections between people and resurfacing old memories and photos, the algorithms that drive these features could make suggestions that could be visually upsetting or harmful to a user who is trying to recover from a breakup.
That is something that Penn State College of Information Sciences of Technology alumnus Anthony Pinter is exploring for his dissertation as he pursues a doctoral degree at the University of Colorado.
“I’m trying to figure out why people stay connected to their ex’s best friend or their ex’s mom, even when they know they shouldn’t, and use that knowledge to figure out how we can design algorithms that are more attuned to human experiences like this,” said Pinter, who earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree at the College of IST in 2015 and 2017, respectively.
Pinter’s current work is a continuation of a research focus he started at Penn State, where he explored issues about life transitions and identity. Under the guidance of his adviser, Lynette Yarger, Pinter investigated how visual media affects gender and perception online. He entered his doctoral program at Colorado wanting to study and understand the challenges that transgender and nonbinary people have when they’re coming out online, and how social media and other online systems may complicate the process or make it easier. But after self-reflection into whether the gender identity work was best suited for him as a straight cisgender man, and after experiencing a series of breakups himself, Pinter shifted his focus to understanding how people navigate the digital connections that are left in the wake of a romantic breakup.
“After having a number of really relevant personal life experiences, I decided to lean into relationship dissolution — which is still exploring life transitions and identity, just in a different way,” he said.
IST paves the way for a teaching career
Pinter comes from a family of academics. His father serves as a psychology professor at Penn State Altoona, after completing a doctoral program and post-doc, and his mother earned a master’s and currently works as the director of curriculum and instruction for a local school district. With his parents advancing their education after he was born, Pinter knew early on that he too wanted to do research and graduate work.
He came to Penn State, and enrolled in the College of IST during his junior year.
“The first class I had as an IST major was with Rosalie Ocker (teaching professor of IST), and I asked her if there were any research opportunities,” said Pinter. “That turned into four years of working together in research and teaching.”
During two of those years Pinter pursued a master’s degree, which he said positioned him for success in his academic trajectory. Now working on his doctorate in Colorado, Pinter also is an adjunct faculty member in the College of IST through Penn State World Campus.
“Teaching is super, super important to me,” said Pinter. “While I like my research and think it will be interesting down the road, it doesn’t necessarily get me out of bed in the morning. But teaching does.”
He added, “The growth that I’ve made from that experience of teaching a variety of courses in the IST curriculum has been really awesome and has really strengthened my abilities as an educator.”
That experience, said Pinter, has been made possible through connections he made at Penn State, namely with Yarger and Ocker. He said the connections he made with peers, and the lifelong friendships he’s developed, are some of the best things that came from his experience at Penn State.
“You can’t understate how important the people that you meet and have classes with and do projects with and have social experiences with in college,” he said. “They’re going to be your friends forever.”
One of those friends, fellow IST alumnus and current IST Alumni Society Board member Briley Marchetti who graduated in 2016, recently reached out to Pinter to ask him to help lead a virtual hackathon for the college. The workshop, held last month and co-hosted by fellow IST alumnus Andrew Weinert, Penn State class of 2009, gave alumni and students an opportunity to showcase their self-expression and creativity through technology. In the hackathon, Pinter taught participants how to use the GitHub platform to create personal websites.
“As someone who likes teaching and helping people learn new things, I enjoy doing this kind of stuff,” said Pinter. “It’s my hope that participants were able to walk away with some new skills, and, hopefully, a neat website that they can use.”
Pinter concluded by restating a motto he had heard from a friend who was a track and field coach.
“He said, ‘it’s not really teaching; it’s more like building relationships,’” said Pinter. “And to me, that is spot on. I’m not necessarily trying to teach you something; I’m trying to empower you to learn and help you along the way.”