• NSF grant to help Baylor business prof & BU alumna fight human trafficking

    Drs. Stacie Petter and Laurie Giddens

    Several years ago, Baylor business professor Stacie Petter and then-doctoral candidate Laurie Giddens (MSIS ’02, PhD ’17) bonded in a Baylor classroom over their shared passion to fight human trafficking. They knew their discipline, information systems, could be a tool in that fight, but weren’t sure exactly how to blend their work with their desire to serve.

    “I’ve always had a place in my heart for people who tend to be lost or forgotten in society,” Petter says. “Unfortunately, people who are victims of human trafficking often end up being disregarded because of their experiences. Laurie and I discovered our shared interest and often thought we’d like to work together in some way to conduct research on human trafficking.”

    Dr. Petter (pictured above left) is now the Ben H. Williams Professor of Information Systems and Business Analytics in the Hankamer School of Business. Giddens (pictured above right) is now Dr. Giddens, and serves as an assistant professor of computer management and information systems at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. But the two have stayed in touch on the subject, and when they discovered an available National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, they applied — and those efforts are paying off.

    Petter and Giddens recently won that NSF grant, providing them with $250,000 to form an interdisciplinary team that will analyze technological challenges faced by law enforcement as they seek to break up trafficking networks and rescue individuals caught in the trade.

    How does information systems help stop human trafficking, you ask? Human trade is an illicit business, but it is a business, and it utilizes technology to accomplish its ends. Petter’s team will examine the ways criminals use information technology in the course of their activity, study the ways law enforcement utilizes technology to stop them, and work to provide resources to help law enforcement better use existing technologies to bridge that gap.

    The grant will fund 18 months of work for the team, which will be comprised of individuals in higher education, police departments, district attorneys, software engineers, nonprofit leaders and more. After their collaboration, they will create training materials for local law enforcement agencies and, from there, apply for an even larger grant to fund further recommendations to combat the issue.

    “It’s exciting, as business faculty, to make a difference that’s about more than the bottom line,” Petter says. “There’s been more of a focus on responsible research that can inform policy, address societal challenges and make a positive impact on our communities, and we’re excited to do that here.”

    Sic ’em, Drs. Petter and Giddens!