Bernadette Longo, PhD, who has spent her academic career questioning the relationships people have with their technologies, has been appointed to the faculty of NJIT’s College of Science and Liberal Arts in the Department of Humanities as an associate professor. She will join the talents of more than 20 new faculty members who will add momentum to NJIT’s strategic plan and make an impact on the quality of life in the 21st century. The interdisciplinary university initiative is focused on three vital areas: convergent life science and engineering, “digital everyware” — ubiquitous computing — and sustainable systems.The women and men joining NJIT to serve a growing student body bring expertise that spans diverse supporting clusters. These include advanced manufacturing, architecture design and construction, big data, biochemistry, business systems, material science and engineering, and sensing and control.
“NJIT’s academic status and interdisciplinary strategy have attracted people at various stages of their careers, and who offer NJIT both distinctive abilities and new resources,” says Provost Ian Gatley. “Enthusiasm for NJIT’s interdisciplinary commitment was apparent during the search process. Everyone interviewed spoke about how the problems they work on are inherently interdisciplinary, how they like to work on teams, how they look forward to collaborating with colleagues across disciplines.”
Donald Sebastian, NJIT’s senior vice president for research and development, emphasizes that connecting with real-world issues is at the heart of expectations for a technological research university. “Academic disciplines are the core of the university and the framework for learning. However, their alignment with industries of the future is not as obvious as with those sectors that have prevailed over the last century. Our strategic research thrusts are designed to make those 21st-century connections explicit.” Convergent life science and engineering, digital everyware and sustainable systems — themes that transcend departments or colleges — shaped NJIT’s hiring plan, he adds.
Longo asks how language helps to shape what we consider to be possible and impossible relationships between ourselves and our technological devices, increasing our relationships with computing devices that we perceive to be almost human.
The link between modes of communication and technology has long been an interest for Longo, who earned a PhD in rhetoric and communication at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She also received both master’s and bachelor’s degrees in English from California State University. Longo joins NJIT from the University of Minnesota, where she taught technical and professional communication and directed the master’s and certificate programs in scientific and technical communication.
In her doctoral work at Rensselaer, Longo was among the first technical communication researchers to complete an extended cultural study, investigating how technical communication acts as a control mechanism for assigning value to scientific information. She explored this approach in Spurious Coin: A History of Science, Management, and Technical Writing, her first book.
Longo uses cultural studies to investigate technical communication practices within particular cultural contexts, mediated by technological devices. She understands technical communication as an everyday practice working to stabilize a rational power/knowledge system. This research accounts for technical communicators' language choices, illuminating how technical language circulates as currency, assigning value to information within a scientific knowledge economy.
Longo’s research has taken her well beyond the campus. From 2005 to 2010, she worked with an intensive care unit (ICU) medical director at the University of Minnesota Medical Center to study how medical practitioners use insulin protocols to disseminate research findings into clinical practices. This effort examined document design elements in protocols developed in response to a study of glucose testing and insulin administration for ICU patients. The study's purpose was to develop a prototype protocol to share with other hospitals, based on design elements that were identified and tested.
Longo has also explored information design issues with a microfinance NGO working with women entrepreneurs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo). She worked with University of Minnesota graduate students and partners in DR Congo to address communication and design problems as opportunities to apply their expertise within a specific cultural context.
The situation required Longo and her students to research and learn about relationships between people and technologies that were unfamiliar to them. In January 2010, she visited Lubumbashi to meet people with whom she had been collaborating virtually for two years. As a result of that trip, she and her students began working with another NGO and two University of Minnesota engineering professors to develop a mobile phone messaging system for small farmers and artisanal miners in Katanga Province. This project was the topic of Longo’s graduate-level information design courses from 2008-2010.