Sarah Swierenga“Get an advanced degree in this versatile field because the credentials give you more flexibility and options over a lifetime.”

Sarah Swierenga - Kent, OH
Major: Human Factors
1986

I chose USD because the Psychology Department has two main concentrations at the doctoral level: an accredited clinical psychology program and the human factors program.

While there were a few other human factors type programs available at the time, I liked that USD put all of its energy and resources into these two areas, which meant that the faculty would be passionate and committed to my chosen area.

I was inspired by an APA published pamphlet called “Career in Psychology” which talked about human factors. I thought this sounded very interesting because of its emphasis on designing for humans in the system. Then I read Stanley Roscoe's Aviation Psychology book and was hooked.

In addition to my studies, I had the opportunity to do a graduate assistantship research projects and an IBM internship. Both of these experiences were invaluable for gaining real-world design and evaluation experience, positioning me well for getting a job in my field after graduation.

Since graduating, I have been fortunate to work in the HCI field in several contexts, including military human factors, academia and corporate user experience research and accessibility compliance for persons with disabilities.

As director of the UARC lab at Michigan State, my team and I work on research grants and consult with government, non-profit, academic and corporate clients from various market sectors. I am currently the principal investigator on four federal and state grant research projects in accessible voting system design, outdoor recreation knowledge management and healthcare IT. I also enjoy mentoring graduate assistants and undergraduate student interns who are interested in user experience research careers.

Human factors is an excellent career choice because it is an interdisciplinary degree that focuses on the intersection of humans and technology and/or systems, which I believe is where innovation occurs.

Being an effective communicator who serves as the r liaison between the more technical side of the team (e.g., engineers or computer scientists) and the product/project managers enables you to influence product design decisions and business processes on important and fun projects. Human factors/UX jobs pay well and these roles tend to position you for advancement within an organization.


Tom Nesthus“Although I struggled with statistics, I must say the challenge was worth the effort for its application following graduate school.”

Thomas E. Nesthus - Sioux Falls, SD
Major: Human Factors
1986

Tom Nesthus chose USD for college because it was close to his home in Sioux Falls and the price was right. He returned for two graduate degrees because he knew the quality of the professors and programs. Today he’s a national expert on pilot fatigue leading to airplane crashes.

He started out in pre-med and biological sciences but switched to psychology in his third year. He was working full-time at the South Dakota Human Services Center in Yankton while in college and he began to wonder about the connections between what the brain feels and what the body does.

“My work-study program in the psychology department primed my interest in experimental and human factors psychology,” Nesthus said. “But a Gill French psychophysiology course truly inspired my interest in the biological basis of behavior and performance … and Jan Berkhout’s graduate level sensation and perception course stands out.”

Tom’s curiosity about the brain-body system led him to a job at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas, studying what happens to pilots during extreme flight experiences.

“My research experience at Brooks exposed me to the many extreme environmental stressors flight crews are required to manage including very high altitude hypoxia following rapid decompression, high G flight profiles, performance wearing biological and chemical life support ensembles and significant alterations of circa“You get back what you put in. The more initiative you take today the better prepared you’ll be for tomorrow.”dian rhythms.”

From there he joined the Federal Aviation Administration studying the effects of lack of oxygen, alcohol, drugs and fatigue on pilots. For the last dozen years he has chaired national expert committees looking at ways to manage the human body’s response to high tech flight. He has given expert testimony about pilot fatigue in crashes and helped write regulations to make sure flight crews are rested and alert.

“Work hard and learn the basic principles of your program of study,” Tom advises current students. “Following graduation you’ll learn the specific skills and abilities needed for your job.