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New dean looks to increase diversity and research in the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences

Oct. 10, 2016

by Scott Bureau

How did you begin your career as a researcher?

Haake: I was inspired as an undergraduate biology major at Colgate University. I was mentored by two faculty members—one for an independent study and the other gave me the opportunity to help with his research. My interest in research grew and I went on to complete both a master’s research thesis and a Ph.D. dissertation in biological sciences. My experience is one of the primary reasons that I am a strong proponent of undergraduate research here at RIT. The research mentoring relationship between a faculty member and student can make a huge impact on students’ experiences.

How did your work relate to computing?

Haake: As a graduate student, I had taken several computing courses, but my research in developmental biology and genetics brought me back. Innovations in molecular biology and genomics transformed biology into a digital information science, which gave rise to the new fields of bioinformatics and computational biology. It was clear that acquiring computing skills was a must. I was introduced to the field of human- computer interaction, which appealed to me because of its grounding in science and its use of experimental methods to test the usability of systems.

Why do you think human-computer interaction is important?

Haake: We have all experienced difficulty with poorly designed user interfaces in the myriad of common objects we use daily. This lack of usability occurs because design has not been done with the user in mind. HCI takes a multidisciplinary approach to understand users, their needs, preferences and behaviors, and to use that understanding to design more usable interfaces. Companies can gain a competitive edge by focusing on usability, and increasingly companies are hiring our students into positions to improve user experience.

As dean, what are some areas that you are passionate about?

Haake: I want to help increase diversity of our students, faculty and staff. The Women in Computing organization in GCCIS, under the leadership of Lana Verschage, has made great strides in creating an inclusive environment, and we are seeing an increase in female enrollments. We are working hard to continuously improve our programs. I’m even creating a new faculty associate role to help tackle the challenges we face in delivering “computing for all.”

Why should the field of computing focus more on women in computing and diversity issues?

Haake: Although women have a history of important contributions to the evolution of computing, there is a large gender gap. Increasing diversity through inclusion of underrepresented groups—women and minorities—promises to bring additional perspectives to design and will likely result in products that appeal to a broader audience. Many companies find that gender-diverse teams are more productive.

Where do you see the Golisano College going in the future?

Haake: I’m confident that our programs will continue to innovate and adapt to trends in technology. Research in GCCIS, including faculty-led undergraduate research, has grown tremendously over the last few years, and I expect that we will continue this upward trajectory.