We got pretty patriotic and on the “Flag day in Mexico” (2-24-14), Rodrigo Zalapa successfully defended his master dissertation entitled: “Tangible computing to support the sensory stimulation therapies of children with autism”. In his dissertation he explored how to integrate movement-based and tangible interactions to enable children to use balls to paint on top of an interactive mirror.

Rodrigo might kill me for blogging this. But … I have to say that Rodrigo did not want to dress “formal” for the event –whatever this means these days. And a couple of days before his talk, he asked me if it was mandatory to wear a suit and if it was ok with me if he chooses not to wear a suit. I found that very interesting and said to him that the most important thing is for him to feel comfortable so of course I was ok with whatever he choose to wear for the “big day.”  It made me think that perhaps the formality around a “dissertation defense” is overrated and adds some undesired and extra pressure to students to the point of making them doubt what to wear on that particular day.

Anyway, Rodrigo decided to wear a gray blazer looking cool and original while I was in white and pink (see pic).  I thought his selection was very clever. Because in contrast to all the students who usually wear suit, Rodrigo seemed very “approachable”, like it was easy to go and talk to him. Achieving this is much more difficult and sometimes people spend a considerable amount of time trying to look “effortless” like Rodrigo.

The dissertation committee members involved M.C. Lidia Elena Gomez Velasco (CICESE, left), Dr. Gustavo Olague Caballero (CICESE, middle left), and Dr. Jesus Favela (CICESE, right)

There was some drama before Rodrigo started his talk. As the Auditorim’s key, where Rodrigo’s talk was scheduled, was misplaced. And after a couple of hours of trying to get into the room we decided to move Rodrigo’s talk to the classroom next to the Auditorium.

 As this classroom did not have enough chairs, unfortunately, a lot of people had to be standing up during Rodrigo’s talk. So sorry about this and I have to say that we really appreciated it that you guys stayed for the complete talk even though the “chair inconvenient”. Then, with half of his audience standing up, Rodrigo gave a 35-ish talk about his work starting around 11:10am.

Then, the dissertation committee members continued the evaluation with very interesting questions and insightful comments.

M.C. Lidia Velasco started the round of questions:

“I want to congratulate you both for the work. Especially for it’s social impact.Is very empowering to see research like this.”

She asked Rodrigo about the most important social contribution of his work, pitfalls when deploying this technology, and the ecological validity of having four participants during the deployment study.

Then, Dr. Gustavo Olague continued with the evaluation, questioning Rodrigo about the difference of their proposed system against commercial technologies, and suggested the use of different techniques to improve their vision-based algorithms used during their development.

Next, Dr. Jesus Favela expressed:

“ I want to congratulate you for your work. Not only you prove to be skillful in developing a robust prototype but also you evaluate it under very challenging conditions.”

He asked Rodrigo about other possibilities to use a more traditional painting tool as the input interface, and question about the independent variables chosen during the evaluation.

I close congratulating Rodrigo highlighting that the amount of work he did is superior to what you will expect from a master dissertation. I also asked Rodrigo to re-visit some of his answers as I felt some questions were not clearly answered.

Overall, I think Rodrigo made a good job in defending his dissertation and answering the questions from the committee members.

Next, we deliberated for around 20 minutes and we all unanimously agreed to approve Rodrigo.

After reading our resolution, attendees complimented Rodrigo. Then Rodrigo had to rush to Tijuana as he was running new deployment study at Pasitos. He stayed for around six extra months working with me and now he is looking for a new position. Hopefully he will find something interesting, soon :)