Michael A. Sao Pedro, PhD Candidate
Hometown: Revere, MA
Degree: PhD Candidate, Learning Sciences & Technologies
I am the first recipient of the doctoral degree in this exciting new interdisciplinary PhD program that blends cognitive science, computer science, and education.
Why did you choose to attend WPI?
I completed my BS/MS at WPI in 2001, which served me quite well in industry, working for a defense contractor doing artificial intelligence research. However, at the end of the day, I felt that this was not what I wanted to be doing and decided to return to a passion I had discovered years earlier at WPI: teaching. I soon discovered that WPI was offering an interesting new program blending what I wanted to do in technology and computer science with my passion for education.
How has WPI’s philosophy of Theory and Practice, and working with teams, been beneficial to you during your time at WPI?
WPI is preparing students incredibly for the working world. Through team projects and course work, I came out with a huge skill set that made me immediately marketable and highly successful in industry. It taught me how to work well in teams, complete tasks in a timely manner, and to think creatively outside of the box. In my PhD program, the practice of putting the software into a real classroom environment feeds the theory; discovering how students learn in a natural environment gives us new ideas about how to improve and change the software to better benefit both teachers and students. This is really the hallmark of the learning sciences: putting theory into practice.
What do you think are WPI’s greatest strengths?
It is nice being in an environment where you can find people who are as nerdy and passionate about their work as you are. Seriously, WPI does a great job at preparing you for solving real-world problems. Additionally, the huge advantage to the seven-week term is that you really get a breadth of knowledge that you couldn’t from traditional terms.
Finally, I’m glad to see the school starting to make new interdisciplinary programs a reality; they’re beginning to extend outside of just doing an IQP relating society to technology by making degrees that do this sort of thing. This seems, to me, the wave of the future. We need people at the intersection of several different areas. It is nice to see that WPI recognizes the importance of this and is investing in it.
How have the professors in your particular department impacted your studies and your life?
It is difficult to choose one since excellence is the norm. I could go on and on about how many of my professors have impacted my studies and shown a personal interest in me. I have gotten more support, advice, help, caring, and consideration than I could’ve dreamed.
Janice Gobert, my PhD advisor, Ryan Baker, and Neil Heffernan are really the ones who made it possible for me to come here. They have invested in me and believed in me. Not having a cognitive psychology background, statistics background, or an ed psych background, they have helped me to grow in these fields by providing me outside readings, offering independent studies, taking me to conferences, helping me write better papers, and giving me invaluable career advice. They are cultivating me as a scientist so that I can make a huge impact in the learning sciences community.
What are your research projects?
Science Assistments is a program that attempts to monitor, measure, and help students conduct scientific inquiry through virtual environments that run over the web. It is called “assistments” because we can simultaneously assess students’ scientific inquiry skills and assist them by detecting in real time what difficulties they’re having as they are conducting their experiments; we can then jump in to offer support and help. The perk of the program is working with actual kids in a middle school. I get to go into the school and actually see how the software impacts students, how it impacts teachers, and how teachers can change what they are doing based on the assessment feedback.
Janice Gobert is the principle investigator and brain-child behind this project and Ryan Baker plays an important role in the project as well.
What do you hope to do when you graduate?
I hope to continue working in the field of education research, particularly designing computerized learning environments to provide teachers formative assessment feedback, students real-time feedback, and support to both as they learn or study on their own. I am working in the domain of science inquiry, and would like to continue to other domains perhaps mathematics "open response" problem solving and foreign language learning. In addition, I am hoping to find novel ways to more seamlessly blend education and gaming - particularly since I see that current approaches do not effectively integrate the two. In short, I'm trying to marry my tech savviness, love of gaming, and my love of education.
Groups or extracurricular activities you participate in at WPI:
- Member of the Bridge Club
- Member of a weight-lifting group
- Competitive video game player: holds world records in classic video games and pinball
- Member of the Ballroom Dance team undergraduate.
Academic or professional awards you have received:
- 2011 Nominated for membership in Sigma Xi Research Society
- 2011 Awarded 2nd Place in Worcester Polytechnic Institute Innovation Presentation Competition
- 2011 Awarded1st Place in the Business & Social Science Division of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Graduate Achievement Research Day Poster Competition
- 2010 Tied for 1st Place in People's Choice Award for Best Young Researcher’s Track Poster Tenth International Conference on Intelligent Tutoring Systems, ITS 2010, Pittsburgh, PA.
- 2010 Tied for First Place - People's Choice Award for Best Interactive Event in the Tenth International Conference on Intelligent Tutoring Systems, ITS 2010, Pittsburgh, PA.
- 2008 Awarded PIMSE Research Fellow.
- 2001 Awarded Worcester Polytechnic Institute Computer Science Teaching Assistant of the Year.
- 2000 Upsilon Pi Epsilon National Computer Science Honor Society.
- 2000 Tau Beta Pi National Engineering Honor Society.
- 1999 Named Worcester Polytechnic Institute Excellence in Mathematics, Science and Engineering Program (EMSEP) Scholar of the Year.
I’m just glad that I’ve been given so many opportunities by this university to succeed.