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Field Education Office Professional Development Workshop

BSW Cording & MSW Hooding

Shaun Owens, PhD, MPH

Making Change Happen

Dr. Shaun Owens navigates a touch-screen tablet as he explains an “embodied conversational agent.” He taps the screen and the device begins to talk to him.

“Think of it as a type of avatar,” he says. “A digital character that not only has human features but can also have a human-like interaction with the user.” Dr. Owens continues by demonstrating on the tablet. “This ‘conversational agent,’ makes health information accessible to diverse populations, such as older adults who have a lower reading level, by eliminating  the need to conduct a comprehensive internet search or read large amounts of text. Because the device has a touchscreen it can also be user-friendly for those with lower levels of computer fluency. The device can ultimately prepare an individual for making informed health decisions by not only educating them about a health topic, but preparing them to speak with their doctor through a mimicked conversation with an agent.

This example is just one of the many ways Dr. Owens is using technology to make communities healthier and to make health education more accessible. Dr. Owens is now an assistant professor in the College of Social Work and a scientist in the SmartHOME™ Initiative at the University of South Carolina.

“Through the SmartHOME initiative, the University of South Carolina is doing tremendous things to help the elderly remain independent in their home,” says Dr. Owens. “In working alongside Dr. Sue Levkoff and Dr. Jenay Beer, I hope to create home-based technologies and services that aid the elderly in making positive decisions about their health. Staying healthy is a key contributor to an individuals’ ability to remain independent.”

Research Background

Dr. Shaun Owens uses community-based research methods to develop sustainable, technology-based interventions, products, and services for aging adults.  His work focuses primarily on the development and evaluation of embodied conversational agents (i.e., avatars) for promoting informed health and cancer decision making among African Americans. Dr. Owens holds a Master of Public Health from Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health and a PhD in Health Promotion Education and Behavior from the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health.

Owens S 62

Contact Information
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  • 803.777.0384
  • pdf icon tinyCurriculum Vita
Community Partners
  • South Carolina Cancer Prevention and Control Program
  • South Carolina Cancer Alliance
  • UsToo International (Spartanburg, Columbia, and Greenville Chapters)
  • Spartanburg Gibbs Cancer Center and Research Institute

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