In her role, Tapia will support initiatives across the college’s four primary research areas – data sciences and artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction, privacy and security, and social and organizational informatics – as well as its three cross-cutting areas – ethics, biomedical and health informatics, and sustainability.
“My vision is for the college to be a place where researchers are creating new technologies while asking and answering important questions about the role of those technologies in society,” said Tapia. “I hope to be a research and funding matchmaker, rainmaker, advocate and mentor to the faculty and students of IST.”
Tapia, who recently completed a term in Penn State’s Administrative Fellows Program with Executive Vice President and Provost Nicholas Jones, will be responsible for driving the college’s strategic research priorities; fostering collaboration with institutional, federal, and industry partners; and representing IST in research-related activities.
“Andrea brings with her more than 19 years of interdisciplinary research, teaching and service,” said Andrew Sears, dean of IST. “Her commitment to diversity and inclusion, positive approach to collaboration, and energetic spirit will be critical in helping the College of IST expand the depth and breadth of our research portfolio.”
He added, “Most importantly, her past leadership within and beyond the college position her to help faculty make an even greater impact as they confront the pressing societal challenges and opportunities of the Information Age. She has been a leader within our faculty for many years, and I’m excited to see her take the next step in this important role.”
An international scholar in crisis informatics, Tapia’s research studies the ways that information technology impacts and is impacted by social, cultural, political, economic and organizational structures. Ultimately, she aims to help emergency response organizations make use of large amounts of citizen-produced data and transform the way in which these organizations operate by identifying more accurate and timely information than is possible with traditional methods.
Said Tapia, “As the global pandemic has demonstrated, the role of information sciences and technology in addressing global ‘wicked problems’ continues to grow in impact, but those same technologies have the potential and power to create new divisions and exacerbate existing ones.”
She added, “I look forward to advocating for IST’s research, innovation and impact, both to external stakeholders and within Penn State, as well as supporting faculty and students in realizing their own ambitions in a research culture rooted in equity, diversity and inclusion.”
Tapia’s work has contributed to the policy-making bodies of the United Nations; the Obama Administration; and emergency management and international relief organizations, such as NetHope, the Red Cross and Mission Critical Partners. She has been awarded more than $5 million in research grants, produced more than 50 publications in top-ranked journals and at 90 conferences, and presented more than 20 keynotes and plenaries.
One of her most notable collaborations, known as Aurorasaurus, explored how Twitter can be leveraged to help people track sightings of the aurora borealis. The project used both satellite data and real-time reporting through Twitter web and mobile app submissions to create a map that tracked when and where the aurora will be visible.
She received a Fulbright grant in 2011, through which she traveled to Costa Rica to determine the effects of a national-level legal mandate to coordinate and share information through the social and informational emergency response networks. In 2017, she received the Penn State Award for Community Engagement and Scholarship.
She serves as the college’s representative to the University Faculty Senate and recently completed a yearlong engagement as a fellow in the Big Ten Academic Alliance Academic Leadership Program, which focuses on addressing the challenges of academic administration at major research universities. Previously, she served as the director of graduate programs in IST.
Tapia, who earned her doctorate in sociology from the University of New Mexico and joined the College of IST in 2002, holds affiliate faculty appointments with the School of International Affairs, as well as the Department of Sociology and Criminology and the School of Labor and Employment Relations, both in the College of the Liberal Arts. She is also a member of the Institute for Information Policy in the Bellisario College of Communications.