Digital Media PhD Student Alyssa Rumsey

Posted October 21, 2019

The Digital Media program at Georgia Tech has another Best Paper Award recipient to celebrate this year. Fourth-year PhD student and Senior Project Manager for the Center of Innovation for Manufacturing (COIM) Alyssa Rumsey, under the advisement of Assistant Professor of Digital Media Chris LeDantec, conducted a study to investigate the effects of a wearable device meant to be used by firefighters on the job. 

Their findings were published in the paper Clearing the Smoke: The Changing Identities and Work in Firefighting in the Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery’s 2019 Conference on Designing Interactive Systems

“I’m really interested in looking at how technology shapes our workplace practices because we spend so much of our lives at work,” Rumsey says of her research. “The combination of being both a grad student and a full-time employee for COIM has exposed me to the wide ranging effects of new types of smart technology like wearables in different kinds of workplace environments whether on the manufacturing shop floor or when responding to an emergency call.”

And while the differences between the shop floor and the burning building may seem obvious, she assures that computing technology is becoming increasingly present in the operations of any and every modern workplace, even the ones not confined to an office. 

“The organizational challenges facing small manufacturers and fire departments are actually more similar than you would think,” she continues. “They both face very unique hurdles in terms of having a highly specialized workforce and being recognized as traditional blue-collar jobs. Currently, they’re facing similar challenges with regards to technology as well as including how to integrate new types of technology and how to re-scale the workforce and attract new talent.”

The wearable device in Rumsey’s study was conceptualized by a startup company in an effort to create a preventative tool that addresses the problem of overexertion and stress, the leading cause of firefighter deaths on the job. Rumsey then joined the team to assess the product from a research vantage point. 

“[The startup] was super supportive and open to letting me learn about their company and working with the fire departments they had relationships with,” she continues. “My role was really trying to understand how the wearable device would fit into long-term practices for firefighting departments and what that means for future firefighters.”

The award-winning paper identified prominent themes surrounding identity, power and authority, and organizational structure in regard to the relationship between smart technologies and new workplace environments. Rumsey’s work led to a deeper understanding of how organizations operate when designing and implementing smart technologies and the opportunities that exist when doing so within a specified context of use. 

But when it comes to the recognition itself, she points back to her purpose. 

“The biggest thing for me is that people are being exposed to my findings, which will hopefully go on to impact how we think about implementing and designing new technologies so that they can be more worker centric,” she continues. “It is also really nice to know that technology’s impact on workers and workplaces is an area that the larger community recognizes is important and deserves more attention.”

Rumsey’s current research is investigating the use of virtual reality for engineering analysis with a large manufacturing company. The next stage of her work will be looking at technology in the context of smaller manufacturing organizations to understand the differences of smart tech implementation and use across different scales and organizational structures. 

As for advice for fellow doctorate students and researchers, she encourages others to stay curious and authentic.

“If you think something is interesting, follow it–you will certainly find others interested in the same things,” she reflects. “Being real with people about what you know and don’t is a great conversation starter, especially as a research! It’s the best ice breaker I can recommend.” 

 The Digital Media program is housed within the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, which is a unit of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.

The story of Rumsey’s study was originally detailed in an article written by the GVU Center. The story also appeared on LMC’s main site


Contact For More Information

Maria Elena Margarella

Graduate Research Assistant, Digital Media