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One of the "25 Most Powerful Women Engineers in Tech" joins Golisano College faculty

The following article is the first in a series of articles that will highlight professors at the Golisano College. For our first installment we spoke with Distinguished Professor Vicki Hanson, who recently joined the faculty in the department of Information Sciences & Technologies, where she specializes in the field of human-computer interaction. Dr. Hanson was formerly a professor at the University of Dundee, Scotland and head of IBM’s Accessibility Research Group. She is a Research Staff Member Emeritus at IBM.  Hanson is a recipient of the Anita Borg Woman of Vision Award for Social Impact, a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and was named one of the 25 Most Powerful Women Engineers in Tech by Business Insider.

How did you get your start in tech?

Human-computer interaction (HCI) grew out of a number of fields and one of those was cognitive psychology. I fell into it as my Ph.D. is in cognitive psychology.  In my undergraduate years I used computers, back when using computers still consisted of making little punch cards.  During my graduate program, computer science was an option you could take to fulfill a graduate foreign language requirement so I pursued that course.   It came in handy as I was running psychology experiments and needed to write my own programs for the studies.  My HCI work began when companies began realizing the importance of making their offerings easily usable.  My HCI work combines my skills is cognitive psychology and computing.

Can you discuss the research you conducted at IBM and what drew you to that work?

I spent more than twenty years at IBM and early on I worked in the K-12 education group. One of my favorite pieces of software I’ve developed was called HandsOn. The program used stories told in American Sign Language to develop deaf students’ understanding of English.  I also worked on programs to help teachers with their assessments, and in one memorable project I lead a group that developed an early Internet server for K-12 schools.  

What was your proudest achievement or project you worked on?

In 2000, IBM indicated a priority topics was accessibility so I had an opportunity to get back to doing what I love. I was asked to manage the Accessibility Research Group at the T. J. Watson Research Center.  One of the projects we worked on was accessibilityWorks, which was software that adapted the web to make it easier for persons with disabilities to use.  We also worked with the developers of the virtual worlds game PowerUp to make the game accessible.

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges in your field going forward and what are some of your goals at RIT?

Our goal is to expand and strengthen our HCI offerings, especially with regards to accessibility. RIT has a long-standing strength in accessibility so I see a lot of opportunity. For example, a lot of mobile and tablet technologies are still hard for people to use. I’m a big fan of making applications that everyone can use rather than making separate applications for persons with disabilities. Therefore I’d like developers to have a better understanding of the needs of persons with disabilities so that they can implement that understanding into their design from the outset.

How about hobbies and personal life?

I have a wonderful and supportive husband and two daughters. One is finishing her Ph.D. in human-computer interaction at the University of Lancaster in the United Kingdom and the other is now working in music here in Rochester. I also have two dogs, both shelties, named Luna and Bella.

 

Dr. Hanson is currently seeking current and prospective Ph.D. students, as well as master’s students with an interest in human-computer interaction for research opportunities. If you are a student interested in working with Dr. Hanson you can contact her at :  vlhics@rit.edu