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Joeanna Arthur ’04

Alumni, Feature, 10 Under 10

Joeanna Arthur


August 7, 2014

Joeanna Arthur ’04


Member of Adelphi University’s 10 Under 10.

Project Scientist, InnoVision Office of Basic and Applied Research, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

“I came to Adelphi with a fuzzy understanding of overall general psychology. By the time I graduated, I knew specifically I wanted to be in the field of neuroscience.”

In 2014, Joeanna Arthur ’04 received the Presidential Early Career Award  for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor that the U.S. Government bestows on science and engineer professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Dr. Arthur is a project scientist at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), one of the 17 sister intelligence community organizations. “People are really interested in the CIA or FBI, but ask, ‘what’s the NGA?’” she said. “We are relatively young compared to the CIA and FBI.”

The NGA provides timely, relevant, and accurate geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) in support of national security. “People think of the National Security Agency (NSA) as the ears of our country,” she said. “Think of the NGA as the eyes of the nation. The GEOINT we provide supports everything from national security to boots on the ground to humanitarian efforts and recovery after natural disasters.”

Dr. Arthur works closely with academic collaborators and researchers in the Intelligence Community and the Government to advance analytic tradecraft and transition fundamental discoveries from the lab to the operational environment.

One of the main projects she is working on looks at new and emerging human computer interfaces to improve machine-analyst interaction. She explains that the traditional human computer interface is the standard mouse, keyboard and monitor as input devices. She is interested in taking advantage of other modalities and immersive technologies to help enhance the cognitive productivity of NGA’s imagery and geospatial analysts.

“I’m really trying to change the ways our analysts interact with their data,” said Dr. Arthur, who equates her future vision for NGA with the way in which Robert Downey Jr. interacts with technology in the movie Iron Man. “Iron Man is able to pull up data via voice or gestures or using other modalities,” she said. “We have millennials coming into the intelligence community who are used to interacting with their iPads or Galaxys similarly. We should be bringing those modes of interaction to our daily work—and not just because it’s fun. There is science behind the concept that being able to interact using different modalities drives up your productivity.”

Dr. Arthur is also interested in translating findings in neuroscience and basic vision science to help analysts to better search and comprehend geospatial data and overhead imagery. “I am reaching out to researchers to understand the operational problems in the government and intelligence community; to understand how we can develop and apply performance metrics; and to understand and mitigate factors that can negatively affect their performance.”  

“Think of the baggage screeners who are screening your luggage when you go through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at the airport,” she said. “There are cognitive factors that could affect their performance, such as fatigue or the prevalence of the target. What they are looking for is analogous of what our analysts are looking for in large sections of the Earth.” Dr. Arthur’s goal is to optimize analysts’, in this case the baggage screeners’, performance levels.

In the Office of Basic and Applied Research, Dr. Arthur is surrounded by physical scientists, mathematicians, atmospheric physicists, and computer scientists. “I’m sort of a non-traditional person in the organization,” said Dr. Arthur, the only neuroscientist at NGA examining these issues. “Rather than only looking at what’s going on in outer space, I have my colleagues focus on what’s going on in inner space, in our analysts’ minds. At the end of the day it’s the people who make decisions and drive organizations,” she said.

By the time she took psychology in high school, Dr. Arthur knew she wanted to pursue it further. “I came to Adelphi with a fuzzy understanding of overall general psychology,” she said. “By the time I graduated, I knew specifically I wanted to be in the field of neuroscience.”

She went on to complete her graduate studies at George Washington University and, remarkably, earned her Ph.D. in less than five years. She credits Adelphi, and Dean Garner and the Honors College in particular, with preparing her for the academic rigors of graduate school. “Adelphi was the main foundation, the launching pad for me.”

“A lot of the courses I took in the Honors College were on par with those being offered at Ivy League colleges and universities,” she said. “The Honors College required I do a thesis, which was unique at the undergraduate level. I was one of the few people who came in to grad school who had actually completed a thesis and defended it orally.”  

Dr. Arthur, who has been at NGA since 2009, sees her future in the intelligence community. “There are a lot of huge explosions going on in neuroscience. The White House has a new brain initiative. In terms of human computer interfaces, one of the main missions NGA Director Letitia Long has been talking about for the agency is trying to immerse the analysts in the data,” she said. “It’s a really exciting time to be involved in the work that I do.”

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