In SBS, Outstanding Senior Finds a Home for her Interdisciplinary Interests: Abigail Collier, '21

May 8, 2021


Abigail Collier – who is graduating with a 4.0 in Information Science and Technology and a minor in Environmental Studies – is the recipient of the SBS Outstanding Senior Award for spring 2021. The award is given to a graduating senior with a record of outstanding achievement, a history of active citizenship on campus and/or in the local Tucson community, and a demonstrated capacity for leadership.

“This phenomenal young woman is a light in the world. She is a brilliant student, an undergraduate TA, a dancer and aerialist, a multimedia artist, a data scientist and coder, and a volunteer in the community bringing the joy of making art to young people and saving lives with No Más Muertes,” said faculty Richard Thompson (Information), Diana Daly (Information), and Adriana Zuniga-Teran (Architecture, Planning & Landscape Architecture) in their nominating letter. “She is extremely talented, hard-working, and wonderful to be around. She is one of those people who will succeed at anything she tries.”

Abby’s first love was dance, which led to work as an aerialist and a circus performer. She has worked with local circus company Cirque Roots since 2018 and was an aerial performer with Flam Chen in the 2019 All Souls Procession. Abby has also taught circus classes for children at the Circus Academy of Tucson.

At the end of high school, Abby started exploring projection dance work – making animations, synchronizing them with dance choreography, and then projecting them. She found she enjoyed the technical side of the project.

When Abby came to the University of Arizona, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to major in, but  then she discovered the B.S. in Information Science and Technology in the School of Information, or iSchool. The degree included the information science and coding that she loved, but it also encouraged an interdisciplinary perspective, allowing her to integrate her interests in the arts and social justice.

Abby received the Honors First Year Project Award in the Social Justice category for a virtual reality video piece presenting the anonymous stories of two DACA students. For her senior capstone project, she built a website checker tool, which produces a report on the accessibility and readability of web pages.

As part of an iSchool internship, Abby studied with Gibney Dance in NYC in pre-pandemic 2020 as part of its Digital Technology Initiative, integrating dance and digital tools like augmented reality, wearable sensors, and projection work. This semester, she completed a multimedia independent study, which included generating interactive visuals for a multimedia astronomy dance performance.

“Abby is astonishingly creative and as insightful as she is gregarious,” said Devin Bayly (Research Technologies Group), who supervised Abby’ independent study. “She is endowed with tremendous work ethic and reflexive curiosity inherent to all lifelong learners.”

Abby also minored in Environmental Studies and looked for opportunities to connect that to her data science work and desire to help her community. She was an outreach and data research assistant at the Water and Energy Sustainable Technology Center. She worked as a field work research assistant for Steven Archer in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, conducting measurements of biodiversity, herbaceous and woody plant cover, and erosion. She also volunteered with the College of Architecture, Planning & Landscape Architecture's STAR Barrio Verde project, a green infrastructure equity project at a southside high school.

“I have really loved being a student in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences,” Abby said. “I love interdisciplinary thinking and that is what the College of SBS offers, as well as a focus on social justice. Especially on the computer science side, which can be very technical, it’s great to have the space to expand into the arts and have it be more socially oriented.”

Abby was excited to discover that she received the SBS Outstanding Senior Award.

“I got the email in the middle of a very busy, stressful day,” Abby recalled. “I was shocked to receive it, and I think I cried a little. It was just so touching to receive it knowing the people who nominated me. It was nice to be recognized after a weird year and a half.”

What’s next? Abby is going to spend some time in Flagstaff with family and volunteer at NAU, helping with social media data analysis. Long term, she hopes to apply her data science skills to a nonprofit organization supporting the arts or environment.