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Professor earns presidential award for scientists, engineers

Roy Levy
October 07, 2011

ASU's Roy Levy has been awarded a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their research careers.

Levy was the only recipient under the Department of Education category to receive the honor.

“I was thrilled and pleasantly surprised,” said Levy, an assistant professor in the School of Social and Family Dynamics, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The awards embody the high priority the Obama Administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers to advance the nation’s goals, tackle grand challenges and contribute to the economy. Sixteen federal departments and agencies annually nominate scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America’s leadership in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions.

“It is inspiring to see the innovative work being done by these scientists and engineers as they ramp up their careers – careers that I know will be not only personally rewarding but also invaluable to the nation,” said President Barack Obama in a press release. “That so many of them are also devoting time to mentoring and other forms of community service speaks volumes about their potential for leadership, not only as scientists but as model citizens.”

Levy’s research at ASU focuses on developing new analytical tools for assessments to make sure that tests measure and accurately record a person’s knowledge of subjects. Assessment examples include ACT and SAT tests given to students, driver’s license tests and new technologies that measure performance through video games and simulated environments.

Levy is currently working with a $250,000 grant from the Department of Education to fund his research.

“We’re in an explosive time when we can collect and store increasing amounts of data. My job is to make sense of the data and form good conclusions,” he said. 

Although his work is more “behind the scenes,” making sure that tests measure skills accurately is an essential part of education that can tell teachers how well their assessment tools are performing.

Analyzing patterns of data collected from assessments is a method Levy uses to measure if tests are working as intended.

“We want to make sure that these assessments are trustworthy,” he said.

Pursuing research in assessments and how well testing tools work was a natural fit for Levy, a philosophy major who enjoys working with statistics.

“I was always interested in how we justify what we know. Statistics is a way to use data to justify claims and assessments are a way to make claims,” he said. “I think a lot of what I do is applied philosophy by helping to make a leap from what we see to what we infer.”

Levy also conducts research with other institutions on projects such as the Cisco Networking Academy that teaches students introductory computer networking skills and prepares them for careers as IT professionals, employing a variety of tests and games. Simulated environments that the company creates provide students with the chance to actually work on issues such as troubleshooting problems.

“This gives people a chance to dynamically interact with a teaching and assessment tool. It has a high level of engagement,” Levy said.

The Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the executive office of the president. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach.