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PIT-UN Convening: CUNY’s Katie Cumiskey In Conversation with Deondre Williams

Deondre Williams

Deondre Williams, is a graduate student at CSI and is the first manager of the CUNY PIT Lab.

Much of public interest technology (PIT) is being defined by the students who are actively engaged in the pursuit of the intersection of technology, social justice, ethics, and the preservation of wellness. The future will be shaped by the production of digital and mobile media aimed at the sharing of knowledge, experiences, and resources. 

The CUNY PIT Lab is an experimental theater of sorts that aims to devise new concepts and techniques that will highlight PIT curriculum, workforce innovation, and student engagement opportunities alongside building authentic community and PIT-UN engagement through a hyFlex, hybrid environment. 

The Rev. Dr. Katie Cumiskey, a psychology professor at CUNY-The College of Staten Island (CSI) and director of the CUNY PIT Lab, sees the 2022 Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN) Annual Convening, taking place Oct. 28-29, as a launchpad for this endeavor. She is one of the co-organizers of the convening. Here, she interviews Deondre Williams, a graduate student at CSI who is the first manager of the CUNY PIT Lab. He will be on-site and assisting in managing and guiding the online and live presence during the convening and beyond.

Please tell us a little about yourself and what excites you about being the CUNY PIT Lab manager.

I am an individual who thrives off of the talents and energy of others. I love to support people, and I am an aspiring mental health counselor. I believe that being a part of the CUNY PIT Lab will not only help me define my character but define what PIT means for the future. We are working on creating a live/social media presence for the convening which I am excited about because this will help us launch how we may approach PIT events in the future. To launch our social media presence for the convening, we will be doing a podcast soon talking about various topics related to PIT that will be featured at our event. I am most interested in sharing what we have learned about the digital preservation of African burial grounds in New York City. Follow @cunyPIT on Twitter for links to our future podcasts and events. 

Tell us a bit about the summer internship you just completed with colleagues from CSI and NYU and how it relates to what we are doing as PIT practitioners.

Over the summer I did some work with Tech Kids Unlimited (TKU), which is a program that is used to help empower neurodiverse students through the use of technology. I believe that as PIT practitioners similarly to TKU we are trying to highlight the talents of students through multiple lenses of technology that will pave new roads into the future. The TKU program directly focuses on the building of social skills, the learning of technology, and welcoming to a community. In the workshop my role was a researcher, and I focused on instances of self-advocacy within the program. The program was virtual, they met on Zoom every weekday for three hours and learned how to design and code for games that they created. I observed their interactions for instances of when the students would seek input from other students. I really enjoyed seeing the students’ interest in different things. Our meetings were also structured around the students’ interests. We use these guiding principles at the CUNY PIT Lab in that our focus and interest is based on what participants bring to the space and beyond. 

What are some of the challenges we face in trying to be inclusive of a diverse range of voices in the work that we do (such as creating podcasts, online events, hybrid events, general digital content)?

I believe that some of the challenges we face are not having enough opportunities to spotlight growing podcasters, not having the right equipment to effectively host events, and not being well informed about the process of creating content in general. Some other challenges as a student of color is the access to good Wi-Fi and a functioning computer. For a long time I had a computer that did not work well, and I had to make use of it until I was able to save up and purchase a better computer. Many individuals don’t have the ability to save anything due to personal issues, and lacking the right equipment makes them unable to demonstrate their talents in their work. For many students of color the struggle is not the work, the struggle is not being able to afford the necessary tools for success. We hope to build accessibility into the design of the lab and put powerful tools into the hands of those who have been historically excluded from such opportunities.

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