May has been a milestone month for Karen Watts DiCicco. The Bryant resident recently graduated from UA Little with a Ph.D. in computer and information science and was promoted as the assistant director of information technology at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
Watts DiCicco is finishing up an educational journey that started 13 years ago. When she first joined UA Little Rock in 2009, she was a single mother of two sons with special needs and found it difficult to go to school full time, work, and raise her kids.
She made the difficult decision to leave school in 2010. Afterwards, she earned her cosmetology license and opened Artistik Salon, which catered to children and adults with special needs. It became a popular destination, and people often traveled from all over the state to visit the salon.
Determined to finish her education, she returned to UA Little Rock in 2016, earning her bachelor’s degree in 2018 and master’s degree in 2019. The same year the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture hired her as the division’s first digital and IT innovation manager, where she explored new and emerging technologies and how they can be implemented with Division of Agriculture applications. Now she will be taking on a new role this summer.
“I will be staying with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture in the IT department as the assistant director of information technology,” she said. “I will continue to bring recognition and funding to the organization. I feel my experience and knowledge will help lead us into the future.”
During her five years at the Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies (COSMOS), she specialized in developing strategies to fight disinformation campaigns online using blockchain technology. Her dissertation, which she is planning to publish, followed the effects of toxicity in digital communities.
“My dissertation looks at two different social media platforms, Parler versus Twitter, to see which platform is more toxic,” she said. “In my datasets, I found that Twitter was more toxic than Parler. We also look at the effects of toxicity with COVID-19 related information. We wanted to study if toxicity can break apart tight-knit digital communities.”
This spring, Watts DiCicco received the Outstanding Doctoral Graduate Award and the Outstanding Academic Achievement Award in Information Science from the Donaghey College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
Her advice for new students is to get involved in student organizations and take advantage of any opportunity you can find.
“Take any opportunity that is given to you,” Watts DiCicco said. “Reach out if you want to join COSMOS. Try hackathons because I learned a lot at those. Get involved with student organizations. Talk to student ambassadors if you need help. Make the best of your education and reach out to your professors and the chair of your department. They are very knowledgeable.”