By Nicole Capozziello
Published November 23, 2020
Mentorship, creativity and information dissemination are just some of the values that define the University at Buffalo student chapter of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society – and this year, are why the group received the Outstanding Student Chapter Award from the national organization.
Since 1999, the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) has sought to recognize student chapters that have made significant contributions to the discipline, organization, their campus and community. This year, the UB chapter was recognized at the gold level, the highest rank available.
“The award is a well-deserved recognition of the accomplishments of our HFES students in terms of research, student engagement and outreach to UB and the surrounding area,” says Matthew Bolton, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering and one of the UB chapter’s faculty advisors.
“It shows that UB has one of the most vibrant human factors research programs in the country. Students in our department are doing research in a number of exciting areas from human interaction with autonomy (like unmanned air vehicles, self-driving cars, robots, and artificial intelligence) to inclusive design to occupational safety and health.”
This year, Mahdi Ebnali, a doctoral candidate in industrial engineering and former HFES student chapter president, was one of 11 students nationally to receive a Student Member with Honors award. The award recognizes individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the discipline during their tenure as a student; applicants are evaluated based on their academic and research performance, impactful contribution to the industry, professional service, and a support letter from advisors.
In addition to his leadership of the UB HFES student chapter, the award recognizes Ebnali’s research impacts and contributions he’s made though professional service, such as reviewing more than 36 papers for top journals and conference proceedings and serving on the editorial board of the Ergonomics International Journal for two years.
“HFES is a highly resilient bunch that keeps doing what we’ve learned to do: solving problems while putting humans first,” says Elliot Biltekoff, current HFES chapter president and doctoral student in industrial and systems engineering. “This award represents a cohesion between our team as a whole and the faculty that really care and support us. Thanks to our advisors, Dr. Matthew Bolton and Dr. Winnie Chen.”
Founded over two decades ago, the UB HFES student chapter is one of the oldest student chapters. The chapter’s 20 active members come from across disciplines, including engineering, psychology, occupational therapy, and cognitive science, united by their interest in improving the human interaction with the products, processes, and systems that make up our world.
“We are highly diverse in terms of age, culture, and intellectual interests. I think that this makes for really interesting interactions with each other because there is always something to learn about someone else's unique experience,” says Biltekoff.
The group has hosted social events that promote member bonding, such as potluck dinners and a Bills game night at a sports bar, introducing their international members to American football and local culture. During last year’s Engineering Week, group members headed to the Buffalo Museum of Science where they shared Human Factors engineering concepts with primary school students. They have also presented at multiple events on campus, including the UB ISE poster competition. Each year, they collaborate with student chapters at the University of Waterloo and University of Toronto to host the Inter-University Workshop, a one-day conference.
Since the pandemic, the group has continued to host events–most of them virtual–to encourage connection and education. “We are trying to take advantage of what virtual meetings can provide in terms of getting speakers to engage with us with very little commitment (temporally or financially speaking) from them,” says Biltekoff. “We also are hoping to collaborate more on virtual events with other chapters like those at Waterloo and Toronto.”
For the award, the group was evaluated in their activity across categories (recruitment, guest speakers, field trips, outreach/volunteerism, collaboration, service to HFES, exploration, social, information dissemination, mentorship, continuous improvement and creativity) and had to demonstrate activity in eight, with excellence in at least five.
The HFES student chapter is open to all interested undergraduate and graduate students. To join or learn more, email the club.