MITRE's Research Is a Differentiating FactorJune 2015
Amanda Anganes is a researcher at heart. Having worked in a lab throughout her undergraduate years in computer science at University of Massachusetts Lowell, she knew she wanted to continue working in that type of environment. "I love being able to do research, and I wanted the flexibility to work on different projects, learn new skills, and explore emerging technologies."
Since her arrival at MITRE in 2010, Anganes has tackled an array of projects involving software development, software applications research, and human factors engineering. She has supported our government sponsors as well as corporate initiatives.
In one of her first projects, she assisted with the development of command and control interfaces that used a multi-touch device for the Army.
More recently she's been supporting the Veterans' Administration. "We're working on improving how electronic health records [EHRs] are created and used," she says. Much of MITRE's EHR research and development is done in conjunction with the federally funded research and development centers MITRE operates for the VA, Department of Defense, and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
For Anganes, the reason why she does the work is as important as the actual work. And she's not the only one feels that way.
"I think one of the distinguishing characteristics of people at MITRE is a sense of integrity and the commitment to addressing our sponsors' really hard problems. We're not just looking for the fastest solution or the most profitable solution. We're looking for the right solution—the one that solves the problem in the best possible way."
A Chance to Develop into a Stronger Researcher
With her keen interest in research, Anganes didn't hesitate to apply when she heard about MITRE's Early Career Research Program (ECRP). The program's goal is to further develop the engineering and scientific research competency of MITRE staff early in their careers. The initial pilot went so well that MITRE expanded the program to include a dozen researchers the following year. Anganes was part of that larger group.
Her proposal extended the research she was doing as part of her master's degree program in computer science from UMass Lowell. "My research focused on improving usability evaluation tools. Almost all of the work in usability evaluation is manual—by that I mean human evaluators are examining, applying rules, and inspecting systems without computer aid.
"There aren't a lot of tools or automated assistance to help these human evaluators do their jobs. As a step towards automated or computer-assisted usability evaluations, we first have to assess these manual processes so we can choose what to automate or assist with – which tools and methods are effective, easy to use, high quality? In my ECRP work, I developed the Heuristic Quality Scale [HQS] to assess the quality of heuristic sets, which are used in one method of usability evaluation. My hope is that it can be extended to other usability evaluation methods, and eventually help us reach the goal of automating or assisting these processes, to drastically improve efficiency and effectiveness."
Anganes appreciated the many benefits of having a structured research program that provided a mentor as well as access to the many research resources available at MITRE.
"I felt fortunate that I could expand upon the research I was doing in my master's degree program and that my department head, Dr. Jill Drury, mentored me throughout the process."
In addition, she says Drury has been very helpful with editing, writing, and navigating the process of submitting an article on her research for publication in the Interacting with Computers Journal.
Turning Research into Support to the VA
After she completed the one-year ECRP, Anganes continued her research directly for her VA sponsor. "My current project is for the VA's VistA Evolution program. Our task is to evaluate current usability evaluation methods for EHRs and develop a new usability evaluation protocol that addresses the cognitive requirements of the people who use EHRs. To do this, we're using the HQS I developed for the ECRP."
Having finished her master's degree last fall, Anganes is enjoying some time off from school. She's an avid knitter who recently began spinning her own yarn, as well as learning how to process wool from sheep to a sweater. She and her husband also enjoy hiking together in New Hampshire.
—by Kay M. Upham
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