A Second Opinion

By heeding her father’s advice, Dr. Jia Shen learned she could align her interest in human behavior with a career in computing.
Saturday, June 8, 2013

As a young student in her native Beijing, Dr. Jia Shen was naturally drawn to the field of psychology. Understanding what motivated people to act in a particular fashion compelled Shen, now an associate professor of Computer Information Systems at Rider, to learn more.

At the same time, however, she was moved by her father’s eloquent overtures on behalf of science, math and engineering. Most of all, he encouraged her to pursue computing.

“He had great talent and passion for science, math, and engineering, and was a chief engineer in his career,” recalled Shen of her father, who passed away just two years ago. “I still remember vividly how fun he made high school physics questions to work with, and how well he explained those concepts to me.”

Inspired by her father’s influence, Shen was admitted to the computer science program at the Beijing University of Technology, where she graduated in the top 2 percent of her class. Still, despite a clear aptitude for computing, her fundamental interest in human behavior remained.

“Although I had fun in programming, coding, and working with machines, I knew computing alone could not fulfill my interests and potentials,” Shen said. “I wanted more.”

Shortly after earning her bachelor’s degree in Beijing, Shen travelled to the United States to enroll at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where she earned a full scholarship in the Information Systems program. It was there, during her master’s and Ph.D. studies, that Shen’s two academic interests dovetailed.

“I discovered the field of HCI – human computer interaction, which is interdisciplinary in nature and is about understanding people and their needs, and the design of technology,” explained Shen, who realized she had found a true calling in the midst of her doctoral studies. “This field allows me to combine my ability and understanding of computing with my passion and interests in people; to work in the creative world of technology design.”

Shen is fueled by her drive to learn more, and her enthusiasm for the field has yielded positive results for Rider’s College of Business Administration, too.

“I am very happy that I found my element in HCI, and built a career in this field,” said Shen, who joined the Rider faculty in 2007. “I designed the first class in HCI at Rider (CIS325 User-Centered Design), and have taught it several times since.”

Her research in the subject has examined user behavior and adoption of a variety of computing technology platforms, including online learning, mobile technology and virtual world. “One of the most interesting aspects of computing and information technology is that it’s everywhere now!” Shen said. “And it’s constantly changing all aspects of our lives, including the ways we work, live, communicate, collaborate and play. This makes it a fascinating field to study, with a constant supply of new topics and phenomena to explore.”

Recently, Shen has also been studying social media, and in particular, the ways it contributes to e-commerce, in the area of social commerce – a combination of social media and e-commerce platforms. “Across these topics, my research interests remain the same: why do people use or not use certain technologies, and what are the implications to the design of such technologies?” she said. To learn more, she examines the various factors that contribute to users’ adoption of social commerce websites where social interactions among consumers are the main mechanism for e-commerce activities.

“Think about your friends’ recommendations and ‘Likes’ of products and companies on Facebook, and the likelihood of you paying more attention to such recommendations than a random ad,” she explained. “I have found that trust is a significant factor that affects users’ perceptions of how useful the website is, which leads to a user’s intention to adopt the website for online shopping. This suggests that with the lack of face-to-face interactions with customers, online stores need to quickly establish trust through their online presence.”

Shen says teaching – particularly at Rider – has afforded her numerous opportunities not only to grow professionally, but to pass on her love of learning to her students.

“I have the best colleagues! I love going to work because of my colleagues, especially in CBA and the CIS program, who have created such a supportive and nurturing environment for me,” said Shen, who credits supportive deans – past and present – as well. “We also have many women faculty (in CBA) in various leadership roles, and they have been great role models to me. 

“Teaching is a great opportunity and excuse for me to keep up with the latest in technology and design,” she continued. “I love passing on my passion for technology and design to students, and I am thrilled when they show the same level of enthusiasm for technology, and leave my class more curious and eager to explore.”

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Dr. Jia Shen hosted an English-language radio show during her undergraduate days at Beijing University of Technology.