My name is Samar (pronounced Summer). I am doing a PhD under the supervision of professor Tapan Parikh in the Represent Research Lab at Cornell University (NYC campus). I am also honored to have professors Wendy Ju and Steve Jackson as my committee members. Before moving to Cornell, I was at the University of Toronto where I completed a B.Sc with a double major in architecture and computer science (2007), a professional Master of Architecture (2015), and an M.Sc in computer science (2017).
Besides becoming a professor (or design researcher in the industry), the primary motivation propelling my academic journey is trying to find practical ways to use my interdisciplinary training to support diverse society members in fulfilling their visions of good life. I started to get involved in research during the second year in undergrad, and have worked at various labs since then. From 2011 to 2014, I was a research assistant at the Responsive Architecture Design lab and a lead developer for its flagship project, the IM Blanky; a computational fabric capable of detecting motion, monitoring breathing patterns and sleep apnea, and relaying vital signs for clinical analysis. My work on the blanky was featured in the book “The Living, Breathing, Thinking Responsive Buildings of the Future” as well as the BBC, CTV, Domus, and Dezeen. I also worked on the micro-simulation and integrated urban modeling engine ILUTE at UofT’s Cities Center, and on climate change modelling and scientific collaboration at the Department of Computer Science (UofT).
My research shifted scope to encompass refugee issues after getting elected as a president of the Arab Students’ Association (UofT) in 2012-2013. Through that position, I became involved in various dialogues on human rights in diaspora, conflict resolution, and Canada’s role in facing global displacement crises. This motivated me to seek in my studies and research interventions for building better refugee camps by synthesizing design and information technology and actuate their deployment through necessary policy reforms. My M.Arch thesis “Architecture for Long Term Refugee Relief: A Design and Policy Manual – Middle East Edition” won the Irving Grossman Prize, meaning it was one of the top two among 91 architecture theses at UofT in 2015. I built upon this work in my M.Sc research, by formulating a conceptual framework for using information technology to improve shelter conditions in such precarious contexts and conducting the necessary surveys on the ground. Since moving to Cornell in 2017, I shifted my focus to studying the phenomenon of difference in urban contexts such as New York City using mixed methods including ethnography, oral history, critical pedagogy, and design interventions.
Outside the lab and classroom, I try to be active to contribute to humanitarian/development-based initiatives. In 2015-2016, I represented the Computer Science Graduate Students’ Benevolent Society (CSGSBS) at the department of computer science undergraduate affairs committee. I was also a mentor with the iLEAD institute and volunteer instructor with UofT Coders. Habitat for Humanity, Daughters for Life, Orphan Sponsorship, and Enactus Canada are some of the organizations I’ve contributed to in the past. I was elected in 2020 as the Information Science Diversity and Inclusion representative for Cornell Tech and is a mentor for the UofT Alumni-Student Mentorship Program.