UCSB MOMENT Lab Ph.D. student Esther Showalter won the prestigious 2018 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship

UCSB MOMENT Lab Ph.D. student Esther Showalter has received the prestigious 2018 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Esther is currently advised by Prof. Elizabeth Belding.

Her proposal to the NSF GRFP was to broaden Internet accessibility for societies living outside the boundaries of modern infrastructure. Indigenous American communities in particular experience 63% less access to home broadband than is standard across America. To expand connectivity, her research focuses on repurposing television whitespace (TVWS) as an Internet access channel for social learning centers such as libraries and schools on Indigenous American reservations.  Along with greater Internet access comes increasing the need for a cohesive minority culture to control its digital presence on the World Wide Web.  To meet this need she'll also collaborate with indigenous community partners to build culturally-informed social media platforms and solutions that reflect the unique goals and mindset of a tribal society.

TVWS shows immense potential in conjunction with cellular and local Wi-Fi networks to deliver last-mile Internet access and to characterize the performance of such a network with standard quality of service metrics.  By collecting and analyzing network traces of white space links deployed at partner networks like the Tribal Digital Village of Southern California, her research will improve understanding the trade-offs in deciding placement of white space base stations and access points to best serve a rural community.  Successful demonstrations must not only allow Internet access from previous dead zones, but must also allow decisions to be made to account for measurements of demand, spectrum availability, asynchronous optimization, coverage and community priorities, and what controls, if any, should be placed on access and bandwidth usage for community members using the white space network. However, ensuring broadband access to marginalized communities also must account for cultural behavior preferences. To meet this need in Indigenous American communities, she will design a culturally-relevant communications platform for reservation communities called the Physical Space Annotation Platform (PSAP).  PSAP will be a tribal social network focused on geographic locations and artifacts that are important to tribal culture, in contrast to the common focus of social media on individuals.  PSAP will unite community-building, culture preservation, and virtual tourism single platform.  In an educational context this tool could be populated by students, such as those enrolled in tribal schools, who can jointly learn about tribal history while developing technical skills. Through participatory design workshops and close collaboration with partners, this tool will be designed and progressively tested for successful reception from the ground up to let cultural coordinators better control both content and audience. Through online virtual tourism using PSAP content, community members and visitors alike can learn about regions of ecological and cultural significance to Native American tribes, while empowering tribal members to control the representation and online access of this content.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) helps ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the United States and reinforces its diversity. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions. As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the GRFP has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. The reputation of the GRFP follows recipients and often helps them become life-long leaders that contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching. Past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners, U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, Google founder, Sergey Brin and Freakonomics co-author, Steven Levitt.