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The third annual Usabil-a-thon was held this past weekend at the Fors Marsh Group User Experience Research Lab and offices in Arlington, VA. Twenty graduate students from George Mason University tested their skills by participating in the 12-hour applied research challenge and competition. The Usabil-a-athon brings together industry and academia as a platform to showcase and promote the field of human factors and user experience research.

George Mason University | Human Factors & Applied Cognition Students at Fors Marsh Group

Fors Marsh Group and Facebook collaborated to create the program for this year’s event which challenged students to create a photo-sharing and visual-messaging app that would resonate with teenagers across three markets (Japan, Brazil, and the United States). Up and coming graduate students tackled the challenge by leveraging the skills they have been developing in the classroom. Specifically, they conducted a competitive usability evaluation on current apps,task analyses on the photo sharing decision-making process, created mockups of their design, and formed a proposal to evaluate the new app’s effectiveness. At the end of the day, the student teams presented their work to a panel of judges and a winning team was selected. Other organizations sponsoring the event included MedStar Health, MetroStar Systems, ICF, CRSA, and Perceptronics Solutions.

George Mason University | Human Factors & Applied Cognition Students at Fors Marsh Group with judges of the competition

The event highlights the importance of developing talent in applied research fields, as more organizations recognize the need for this specific skillset. In particular, human factors and user experience research skills continues to be in high demand with most organizations preferring candidates to have a minimum of a Master’s degree in psychology, human-computer interaction, or information science. George Mason University’s Human Factors and Applied Cognition program faculty have been tremendous advocates for supplementing coursework with hands-on in-the-field experience. All-day challenges, like the Usabil-a-thon, provide students with the opportunity to gain valuable experience while connecting with their local community. It also provides organizations with the opportunity to evaluate a student program as an employee recruitment source. Events like Usabil-a-thon are a win-win for both students and local organizations and Fors Marsh Group is proud to support them. To learn more about the event, visit

About the author

Jonathan Strohl

Jonathan Strohl

Jonathan joined the User Experience Research Team at Fors Marsh Group in 2012. In September 2015, Jon was promoted to Senior Researcher. In his role, he leads a team of user experience researchers to conduct usability tests and interviews, build user personas, and create prototypes to help organizations improve and create exceptional websites, apps, forms, and surveys for their users. During his employment with FMG, he has conducted research on: online financial education resources for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; mobile device passwords for the National Institute of Standards and Technology; patient, physician, and researcher materials and resources for the National Cancer Institute; tax forms for the IRS; and television rating feedback tools for the Nielsen Company. His research deliverables incorporate data from users' subjective experience, observable behaviors, and eye gazes to provide clients with insightful and actionable recommendations for optimal design.

Jonathan graduated with his M.A. from the Human Factors & Applied Cognition program at George Mason University. At George Mason, Jonathan worked on a variety of human factors and cognitive psychology projects. He was part of a team that prototyped a mobile device user interface aimed to increase pilot situational awareness while taxiing on runways. He was a research manager on cognitive training and aging studies, investigating neuropsychological and neural structural changes in older populations. He also assisted on driving simulator studies, investigating learning interactions with forward collision warnings.

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