Industry networking and community outreach help UW-Madison HFES student chapter excel

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Last year the UW-Madison Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) experienced the annual international conference in San Diego. This year, thanks to the support of the industrial and systems engineering department and alumni donations, Vindhya Venkatraman and Rashmi Payyanadan are ready to co-host the student lounge at this year’s international annual meeting in Chicago, Oct. 27-31, 2014. 

Venkatraman, past president of the UW-Madison HFES student chapter, and Payyanadan, the current president, approached the national HFES chapter and requested that UW-Madison act as the local chapter hosts at this year’s conference. “The ISyE department was really excited that we are putting UW’s name out there,” Venkatramen says. “The student chapter host chapters are always given prominence, which is a great way to bring the name of the host chapter’s university to a broader audience.”

The student lounge is a physical space where HFES students from all over the world meet and network in between sessions. Through the conference week, activities are also hosted within the student lounge, which allows for students to interact with academic and industry professionals. “We are bringing in speakers because we wanted students to be aware of professional opportunities, as well as academic opportunities within other universities,” says Venkatraman. 

The student lounge will feature a series of industry, academic and government professionals covering topics such as human factors certification, the human factors experience in academia and industry, and working within research and development. Venkatraman says these professionals will demystify the experience of ergonomics professions, and will help students looking to continue their career in human factors. 

At the conference, the UW-Madison HFES student chapter also will be accepting its third consecutive HFES gold award. Gold awards are presented to student chapters based on excellence in various categories such as community outreach. 

As a part of its community outreach, UW-Madison’s HFES chapter regularly conducts presentations for Madison-area elementary, middle and high school students. During the presentations, students are shown everyday objects like books or zip-lock bags and asked which designs are easiest for people with disabilities to use. “We want the students to think of engineering not as math and physics, but as something that’s applied,” says Payyanadan. “It’s something where you can use your hands, and apply what you learn in school.”

The students credit their previous HFES advisor, Associate Professor Douglas Wiegmann, for establishing excellence in their chapter and their current advisor, Emerson Electric Quality and Productivity Professor John Lee, for helping them maintain that excellence. “John’s always coming up with great ideas on how to connect us with the department,” Payyanadan says. “We are very supported.”

Lee will also be receiving his own award during the 2014 HFES international conference. The prestigious Paul M. Fitts education award recognizes a person who has made exceptional contributions to the education and training of human factors and ergonomics specialists. “The award is given to educators who have been very committed to training students both for industry and academia and, unlike Professor Lee, most people who receive it at the end of their careers,” says Venkatraman. “We are really proud that we are hosting the student lounge in the same year that he won the Fitts award.”

John Steeno