College of Science and Engineering
University of Minnesota
What attracted you to Carnegie Mellon?
During the summer before I started as an undergraduate, I wavered between
University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University. As an entering
freshman, I had intended to be a biology major, and to pursue a career as
a researcher in cell biology. I was attracted to these two schools
because both were technically excellent in science and engineering. I
had no thoughts of a career in computer science at that time, so the
reputations of the computer science departments never entered into my
initial decision. Michigan had wider recognition for its science and
engineering programs than
CMU. However, I chose Carnegie Mellon because it
was closer to my family, and it was much smaller and less overwhelming in
scale than University of Michigan. As a graduate, I stayed at Carnegie
Mellon because of its reputation in computer science, and because I was
already working as a research engineer for an interesting project (The
Intelligent Manufacturing Workstation) through the Robotics Institute
which would provide funding and a good research focus.
What was your favorite class and why?
That is hard to say because there were many classes that I enjoyed.
Probably I would have to say that my favorite was an introductory
programming class that I took in spring of '78. I did not have much
previous exposure to computers. Computers were not as ubiquitous as they
are today, and although I could have taken programming (using a paper
punch tape) in high school, I didn't because I felt that was only for
geeks. However, in college, most of the science and engineering students
took programming courses so it seemed more mainstream and I finally signed
up for a computer course. I found the course a real eye-opener. It
opened up a portal to a whole new abstract world. It was like discoving
an unknown continent that had been sitting right in front of you the whole
Who was your favorite professor and why?
As an undergraduate, Mary Shaw. She was a role model. There were all
too few female CS profs then (and there still are too few). She was
bold. She was not cowed by any one. I remember vividly when someone (I
think in the legislature) made some comment that CS excluded women and
blacks because it required learning math -- Mary Shaw took several days
off go there and set those folks straight on a thing or two about women
and their ability to acquire mathematical concepts! She really put her
efforts behind her beliefs. Later, when I became a graduate student, she
took an interest in the women graduate students by organizing impromptu
dinners and networking/career discussion sessions. I followed her lead
in holding similar social events for the women Graduate students when I
became a professor at U. of Illinois.
I also really liked Professor Elizabeth Jones (Biology). I noted, when
reading the CMU alumni magazine the other day, that she is still winning
awards for her research and teaching.
Although he was not a professor, I think an honorable mention for teaching
has to go to the teaching assistant (TA) for my first programming course,
Bruce Nelson. Bruce conveyed a genuine excitement about the subject, as
well as being a very entertaining teacher. I recall that once (I think
to emphasize a point) he leaped in the air and kicked the chalkboard.
And, because he did not wear shoes to class past Easter, it left a perfect
bare footprint in the center of the chalky blackboard, at about shoulder
level. We all stared at that footprint about a minute. He looked it
too, then decided to sign it with his initials. He was careful not to
write over the footprint for the rest of class so that he could leave it
up there for other classes to ponder.
As a graduate student, Herbert Simon was my favorite professor because of
his fascinating approach to cognitive science. He was an excellent
thinker and a fascinating speaker.
What was the best thing about living in Pittsburgh?
My family lives there. Its nice sized city, it's cosmopolitan without
being inconveniently enormous. And there is a lot of great ethnic food.
What opportunities do you feel you had at Carnegie Mellon that you
wouldn't have had at another university?
Access to a world class computer science department combined with
excellent engineering resources. Carnegie Mellon also has a very
uniquely interdisciplinary atmosphere, and the type of basic research
problems explored there tend to have a very practical side, yet are far
reaching. Both of those aspects are really very unique to Carnegie
Mellon's research culture.
How do you think Carnegie Mellon helped prepare you to meet your
As an undergraduate, it taught me how to really work, and how to search
for answers on my own. Sink or swim. Sometimes I sank and sometimes I
swam. It was very humbling (but important) to learn that I might
sometimes work as hard as I could and still sink. Sometimes, you have to
be proud of simply not drowning.
Graduate school very directly helped me prepare for my future professional
challenges as a researcher. I learned how to conduct research, give
research talks, and write research papers. I also participated in
preparing grant proposals. These are all essential skills in my
profession as a researcher.
I found graduate school to be very different from undergraduate school,
although I attended both at the same institution. Graduate school
requires a very different set of skills than undergraduate school. As a
graduate student it is important to learn to deal with large unstructured
problems. Your advisor will not necessarily tell you what to do or how
to solve it. If he or she knew, it wouldn't be research. You have to
learn to explore problems and identify its needs largely on your own. In
some sense, your research problem is your boss (perhaps collaboratively
with your advisor) and you have to learn to let the problem tell you what
to do. Fortunately, I like this type of challenge better than the
cut-and-dried type of problems presented in an undergraduate ciriculum.
Consequently, I found graduate work far more satisfying, and in some sense
less difficult than classroom-oriented undergraduate work.
What do you believe has been your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is my daughter.
What advice would you have for incoming students in the field of
computer science who were worried about the difficulty of their
Think more about whether this program helps you to do things you want to
do, and if you would enjoy the intellectual activities in which you will
be participating, rather than whether the program is "difficult." If the
program is in line with what you want to do, it won't feel as difficult.
And graduating from a well-know program, like CMU's, has a huge impact on
making it easier for you to get a good position later. However, if the
program isn't in line with your skills and goals, it might appear more
difficult, which might be an indication that perhaps it's not what you
want to do.
The advances in the field of computer science have lead to a digital
revolution. We've seen the birth of the personal computer, the fruition of
Moore's law, the rise of the Internet, to name a few. What do you think
we'll see next?
A better understanding of how to make effective, joint human-computer
systems that work jointly with us to solve problems.
Describe your current position and it's roles and responsibilities.
I am an associate professor of Mechanical Engineering, in the Industrial
Engineering division, at the University of Minnesota. I am in the process
of review for promotion in 2004 to full professor. My research focus is
decision support systems, which are intelligent computer systems that help
people to make better or faster decisions, without making those decisions
for them. Decision support systems keep the human in control. This
property makes them more flexible and more acceptable to people than
totally automated decision making systems. Understanding how to design
effective human-computer interactions, and how interactions with computers
change human decision-making (for better and worse) are important parts of
the study of decision support systems. As systems are becoming
increasingly complex, decision support systems are becoming increasingly
essential to all areas of decision making, such as military planning and
intelligence analysis, design of products, and monitoring of complex
systems such as nuclear power plants.
My responsibilities are similar to those of many professors. I am
responsible for teaching classes, advising both undergraduate and graduate
students in ciriculum and career choices. I serve on various
departmental committees to decide issues such as "How should we change our
admissions process to attract the very best students?" (Committees are a
necessary part of the self-governing process of a department.) I write
proposals for research funding, conduct research, train graduate students
in research and thesis work, and write scientific articles reporting
results of the research. During the past 3 summers I have participated in
an educational outreach program called Science and Technology Preview
(STEPS) camp for girls. The STEPS program, sponsored by the National Air
and Space Administration (NASA), aimed to interest high-school girls in
applying for college-level education in science. Girls participating in
the camp came to the University of Minnesota for a week-long program, in
which they built, launched, and analyzed the flight of a small (6 feet
Additionally, I volunteer for various disciplinary service related
activities. For example, I am serving as the chair of the 2004 American
Society for Mechanical Engineers conference on Design For Manufacturing.
I review articles for journals and conferences, and review proposals for
funding organizations, such as National Science Foundation. I also
consult for various companies. I am currently working with the Guidant
Corporation, a designer of implantable medical devices, to improve their
product design and manufacturing processes.
This year I am on sabbatical leave, which means that I do all of the
things above except teach classes. As part of my sabbatical, I will be
visiting NASA's research center in Moffet Field Californina, for 3 months,
starting in February 2004.
What research projects are you currently working on or completed
recently (e.g. describe your work on the e.g. Information Awareness
Interface. What is it? Why is it important? What impact has this project
made or will make in the field?)
The Information Awareness Interface is a recently completed that evolved
into a software system called "CoRaven." It is the result of the efforts
of several faculty members: Jones, Wilkins, Barger, and myself working in
a collaborative effort. CoRaven is a set of decision support tools to
assist military analysis in the process of gathering and interpreting
reconnaissance data from the battlefield. A major challenge faced by
military intelligence analysts is that modern information technology has
made it possible for them to obtain more information pertaining to the
battlefield and enemy activities than ever before. So much, in fact, that
analysts are deluged with information. The result is that they are unable
to sift through all the data in a timely manner, which could have
life-threatening consequences in critical situations. CoRaven's goals
are to assist the analyst in rapidly analyzing intelligence data with
respect to specific hypotheses they have posed about enemy actions. This
will help them quickly identify the most relevant information in a large
mass of data, track and visualize trends, and maintain an effective