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Educating the next generation of human factors researchers

November 10, 2014

Twenty-five students from the University of Michigan—majoring in disciplines as diverse as biomechanics, human-computer interaction, and industrial engineering—teamed up recently to secure sponsorship to attend the annual meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES), held in Chicago in late October. The young people are all part of the U-M student chapter of the HFES.

Research professor Paul A. Green, head of UMTRI’s Driver Interface Group, serves as faculty advisor for the group. Green says that typically eight to ten students from the group attend the conference. This year, the student chapter made a special effort to increase attendance, raising $16,000 in less than a month, so that anyone who wanted to attend could do so. The experience of participating in conferences and professional societies is invaluable, says Green, and the HFES conference in particular provides a real-world complement to classroom studies.

“Attending this conference opens students’ minds to the wide variety of human factors applications that exist—much larger than they see in class or in their research,” says Green. “Also, because what they see comes from a wide variety of people—peers at other universities, faculty at other universities, people in industry and government—their impression of the importance of human factors and ergonomics becomes much stronger.”

The field of human factors explores how people perform and interact in all settings, such as healthcare, manufacturing, aircraft, and ground transportation, to name a few. To cover this breadth of topics, the HFES annual meeting spans four and a half days and features an array of professional sessions, an exhibit hall, interactive poster and demonstration sessions, and numerous networking opportunities.

This year, a special session geared especially toward students featured a panel session on creating multidisciplinary research opportunities, publishing in the field of human factors ergonomics, and finding internship and job opportunities. In addition, the U-M HFES chapter hosted a social gathering for all students attending the conference. Another highlight: the annual gathering of U-M students and affiliates. The “Michigan Dinner,” sponsored by U-M Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE), attracted a record fifty-six people (twenty-three students, four professors, and various alumni).

For U-M HFES chapter president Rosemarie Figueroa, the most valuable aspect of the conference is the combination of experiences and people.

“This conference gives me the opportunity to learn and explore different areas of ergonomics not only by attending presentations but also when networking and talking to other members about what they do and their passion for it,” says Figueroa, a PhD candidate in U-M IOE. “The connections that you build here are really valuable. These are people that come from all over the world with similar interests in human factors and ergonomics.”

The group is already in the planning stages to attend next year’s event, to be held in Los Angeles in late October, 2015.

Related Links
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
UTMRI Driver Interface Group
UMTRI Human Factors Group

Photo: The U-M HFES chapter received the Gold Award for outstanding student chapter at this year’s meeting—the highest honor a student chapter can receive. Sponsors for the group included Applied Safety and Ergonomics (gold sponsor), Usability Associates, U-M IOE Department, U-M College of Engineering, Richard Jagacinski (alumnus and professor in the department of psychology at Ohio State University), UMTRI research professor Paul Green (faculty advisor), and U-M Greater Chicago Club (Jeff Piell, president). Shown at the meeting, from left, are Trevor Grigg, Alan Booth, Clara Zhang, Alicia Napoleon, and Joanna Nieske.