Aleshia Taylor Hayes Ph.D.

Dr. Hayes, the founder and Director of the SURGE Lab, is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Learning Technologies at the University of North Texas. Dr. Hayes earned her BA in Psychology from Purdue University in 2001, her MA in Communication from Purdue University in 2008, her MS in Modeling and Simulation from the University of Central Florida in 2014, and her PhD in Modeling and Simulation from the University of Central Florida in 2015.  She wrote her dissertation on Effects Of Social Presence On Learning Outcomes In Virtual Learning Environments.  This interdisciplinary background enables her to conduct research on many related topics including:

  • Virtual reality (VR)
  • Augmented reality (AR)
  • Mixed reality (MR)
  • Extended reality (XR)
  • 3D Virtual Environments
  • Virtual Learning Environments
  • Simulation
  • Game Design
  • Game Development
  • Player Experience
  • Usability/User Experience (UX)
  • Human Centered Computing
  • Gamification/Serious Games
  • Social Presence

After finishing her PhD, Dr. Hayes taught and researched at Full Sail University and Purdue University Fort Wayne before ending up at the University of North Texas in 2018.  She then founded the SURGE Lab in 2021 to better further her research goals.

Dr. Hayes is passionate about developing, evaluating, and iterating on technology used for learning in formal and informal environments.  She works tirelessly to encourage students at all levels to pursue STEM education and STEM careers with the explicit goal of expanding and diversifying STEM education and the STEM workforce. Her efforts to recruit students into STEM range from public exhibits of Virtual Reality, to K12 classroom visits, to app development camps for middle and high school aged students to hosting interdisciplinary game development events. Dr. Hayes leverages her research funded by NSF, NIH, the Department of Defense and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to inform Learning Technology design and implementation across learners from K12 and university levels to the workforce.  A UNT video about Dr. Hayes can be found here: Dr. Hayes research video.

Research Assistants


Abdul Haseeb

Abdul Haseeb is a graduate research assistant with a passion for exploring the potential of immersive technology tools for teaching and learning. He is deeply interested in game development, focusing on virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), extended reality (XR) and believes that these cutting-edge technologies have the power to transform the way we perceive this world. He is committed to conducting rigorous, data-driven research to help advance the understanding of immersive technology and its potential applications in the field of education. He has a strong background in both technology and education, and constantly seeking to expand his knowledge and skills in these areas. 


Guna Sindhuja Siripurapu

Sindhuja is an ongoing collaborator and a former Graduate Research Assistant at SURGE XR Lab currently pursuing a PhD in Computer Science. She believes that technology can be used to dissolve the gap between the physical and virtual worlds, creating immersive experiences that push the boundaries to infinite possibilities. Sindhuja is dedicated to advancing the field through innovative research and collaborative approach. Her ultimate goal is to pursue a PhD in the same domain, continuing to explore the potential of technology to change the way we interact with the world around us.

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Megan McAdams

Megan McAdams is an undergraduate Computer Science student minoring in Spanish. She is interested in artificial intelligence and machine learning. She believes in a future where almost everything is assisted or automated by intelligence technology, including everything from everyday tasks to complex projects. After completing her undergraduate degree at the University of North Texas, Megan plans to continue on to receive her Master’s degree, and eventually her PhD. 

Michael Biancardi

Michael Biancardi is a Computer Science and Mathematics student passionate about technology.  He believes technology can and should have a positive impact on people and the world.  This has led him to develop interests in human-centered computing, security, and privacy.  After finishing his undergrad at UNT, he hopes to enter into a Master's program for Computer Science and ultimately work in industry where he can leverage the power of technology to accomplish something meaningful. 

Research Collaborators

Stephanie L. Robinson 

As an entrepreneur and consultant with more than 20 years of business experience, Stephanie co-founded a medical device and assistive technology company in 2006. In 2010, she implemented an internship program within her company, providing opportunities for college students to have hands-on experience with servicing clients with disabilities. By 2019 Stephanie founded New Life Center for Entrepreneurship, proving training, technology, and resources to individuals with disabilities, helping to encourage business ownership among this demographic. As a public servant, she sits on the board of several organizations including the Texas Appraiser Licensing and Certification Board (TALCB) where she was appointed by Governor Abbott for a six-year term. Stephanie is a RESNA-certified Assistive Technology Professional (ATP), she received her BA in Entrepreneurship, MS in Learning Technologies, and is currently completing her PhD in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas. Her research interest include assistive technology, learner-centered technology integration, vocational rehabilitation, and artificial intelligence in education, private, and government sectors.   

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Kimberly Jackson

Research interest is to explore professional training and development programs that would enhance staffs' knowledge of technology integration. To research the design and use of gamification in virtual platforms that will transform the corporate training environment by using computer games in training applications. In terms of a professional career, I see myself researching different training and learning methodologies as they apply to the design of effective virtual learning environments and competency based or self-directed learning courses that will provide personal improvement and self-improvement through mastering the task and development of technological competences. 

Tetyana Kucher

Tetyana Kucher is a doctoral student at the University of North Texas (UNT) in the Learning Technologies Program with a minor in Curriculum and Instruction. Tetyana’s current research interests lie in the application of high-immersion virtual reality (VR) technologies for education and training. Currently, Tetyana investigates VR development and application for language learning and the potential of VR to help cope with social isolation and mental health disorders. Tetyana is well-rounded in different areas of visual design and development, such as instructional design, graphic design, web-development, and video production, and she is constantly improving in the areas of data visualization, quantitative (SPSS) and qualitative (case studies, interviewing, coding) research.

Nanxi Meng

Dr. Nanxi Meng received her Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from University of North Texas in May 2021. She works as the senior lecturer and program coordinator at University of North Texas since 2014. Besides teaching and conducting research on language education, Nanxi is also a certified STEM educator and trainer by National Institute of STEM Education, and a member of the National Science Teacher Association. Nanxi conducts research and publishes articles in the following areas: pedagogical study (STEM education, project-based learning), teacher development with the focus on technology adoption, and learning science. Her published co-authored articles include "Approaches to Integrate Virtual Reality into K-16 Lesson Plans: an Introduction for Teachers" in TechTrends, and "The Effectiveness of Partial Pair Programming on Elementary School Students’ Computational Thinking Skills and Self-Efficacy" in Computers & Education. Nanxi served the AECT 2020 SICET division as article and proposal reviewer, and serves the SICET academic committee since 2021. She is also the reviewer of journal Smart Learning Environment.

Qing Li

Ms. Qing Li is a senior lecturer at the School of Foreign Languages, Chongqing University of Science and Technology and a doctoral student of Learning Technologies at the University of North Texas. Her research interests include but not limited to technology-enhanced EFL learning and teaching, translation theory and practice. Her work has been mainly focusing on translation and interpreting teaching, pedagogical reform in EFL, and application of technology-supported instructional design in EFL. She was a visiting scholar in the Department of Learning Technologies at the University of North Texas from 2017-2018. She worked as a volunteer for the conference committee of TCET 2018 sponsored by AECT, served on the conference committee of SICET & EITT 2019, and currently is a member of the SICET conference council. 

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Rubaiyat Asif Iqbal

Asif is currently a doctoral student in the Department of Learning Technologies at the University of North Texas (UNT) but comes with an interdisciplinary background in media, communication, and design. Having lived, studied, and worked in 4 different countries and extensive experience in journalism, communication, and interaction design enables him to offer a unique perspective and variety of technical expertise in research. His current research interest revolves around games, social media, human-computer interaction, a community of practice, and immersive learning in an effort to combine and utilize some of these areas for better Learning Experience Design. He is heavily into solution-driven research and a believer in design for social good.

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Patience Wieland

Patience Wieland is a graduate research assistant for SURGE. Wieland is also a doctoral candidate in the Department of Learning Technologies, with a background of instructional design, and media production. Her research interests include entertainment-education, health science learning, and game-based learning.

Danita Bradshaw-Ward

Danita Bradshaw-Ward is a Biology Instructor at Dallas College and a PhD Candidate in Learning Technologies at the University of North Texas. Her research interests are digital tools and technology-based learning design, application, and evaluation specifically aimed at STEM and Biology education. Her work explores learning barriers for underrepresented populations aiming to improve STEM success in higher education.

Faisal Mohammed

Faisal Mohammed is a Master's student at the University of North Texas (UNT) in the Artificial Intelligence program. His research interests include Deep learning (DL) and Natural Language Processing (NLP). Faisal believes that AI systems can learn from data and improve over time, enabling them to make more accurate predictions and decisions. He gained practical experience as a Data Scientist at IBM, where he applied his knowledge of ML, DL, and NLP to analyze large datasets and provide valuable insights for informed business decisions. Currently, Faisal is working as a Research Assistant on a project that aims to develop sentiment analysis algorithms for virtual reality experiences. They are analyzing data from Reddit to gain insights into how users feel about different VR experiences. Faisal is excited to contribute to the development of cutting-edge AI solutions that have the potential to transform the way we experience virtual reality.

Bau Tran 

Bau Tran is a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in the Department of Learning Technologies. Currently, he is a medical educator at a local medical university, educating health professions for over 25+ years. His research interest is the utilization of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in medical education and their application to better prepare our medical providers with the necessary knowledge and skill sets.

Dr. Roger Chambers

Dr. Roger Chambers received his Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from University of North Texas in May 2022. He is the instructional dean for Business, Technology, Fire Science, and Process Technology at Lone Star College Kingwood in the northeast corner of the Greater Houston area. Roger’s research interests center around the Community of Inquiry and seeking tangible implementations of the theory that he hopes adds value to the instructional design process. He co-authored an IEEE TALE conference proceeding focused on Augmented Reality and Computer Science in Higher Education settings. He continues to investigate how evolving technology can improve learner experience primarily focused in introductory computer programming education.

Genna Ibarra

Genna Ibarra is a TAMS student studying computer science. Her research interests are Natural Language Processing, game development, and more. She strongly advocates for equality for all in STEM education!

Erin L. Howard

Erin L. Howard is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of North Texas in the department of Learning Technologies. She has a BS from the University of North Texas, an MS in Counseling Development (2015), an MS in Kinesiology (2013), and an M.Ed. in Teaching, Learning Theory, and Curriculum from Texas Woman's University. This diverse background leads her to research interests in cyberpsychology as it relates to the K12 system, virtual reality for instructional use, and artificial intelligence in counseling and education. Erin L. Howard will graduate from the doctoral program in August 2023.