Ease and efficiency work in tandem for Waldemar Karwowski, a decorated UCF Pegasus Professor who specializes in human factors and ergonomics.

His devotion to his research and desire to improve the human condition earned him the honor of being named a 2023 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellow in the section of engineering. He is the 17th current UCF leadership and faculty member to earn the honor.

Karwowski, who also serves as chair of UCF’s Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems within the College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS), joins 501 other esteemed fellows across 24 different AAAS-recognized disciplines.

“I was a bit surprised that I was elected,” he says. “But of course, it was a pleasant surprise, and I’m very honored.”

“Being an active fellow means greater recognition at the national level,” Karwowski says. “You really must have demonstrated significant contributions to science and education. Since my work in human factors is interdisciplinary, and crosses the issues of engineering, management, psychology, neuroscience, I think that that’s very fitting.”

On Sept. 21, Karwowski and other new fellows will receive a certificate and a gold and blue rosette pin (representing science and engineering, respectively) to commemorate their election at a forum in Washington, D.C., which will also mark the 150th anniversary of the AAAS.

Karwowski was elected, “for distinguished contributions to the field of human factors and ergonomics, particularly for modeling and simulation of human performance in complex systems,” according to AAAS.

Being elected an AAAS Fellow is a tremendous accomplishment, says Sudip Parikh, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of the Science family of journals.

“As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the AAAS Fellows Program, AAAS is proud to recognize the newly elected individuals,” Parikh said in a press release. “This year’s class embodies scientific excellence, fosters trust in science throughout the communities they serve and leads the next generation of scientists while advancing scientific achievements.”

A Super Science

Ergonomics and human factors are so much more than workplace buzzwords or esoteric theories for Karwowski. He defines them as sciences that apply to how we relate to everything.

“Ergonomics is a super science,” Karwowski says. “From the moment we are born, we interact with the outside world. Understanding these interactions — not just with computers or cars, but with one another — is crucial to improving the human condition worldwide. Our goal is to make our lives as productive and joyful as possible.”

The contemporary field of human factors and ergonomics aims to understand how people interact with any system, at any level, and at any age, Karwowski says. His research focuses on enhancing efficiency and satisfaction while reducing fatigue and human error.

“My field is relatively new, dating back to World War II, when it became crucial to understand how people operate systems without fatigue or errors,” he says.  “This initial focus on military has now expanded to manufacturing, service systems, space exploration, leisure, entertainment and everyday activities.”

Karwowski has seen the field greatly broaden with even more opportunities to fine tune and study human factors and ergonomics. Advances in technology have allowed him and his peers to explore an emerging field of “neuroergonomics.”

Karwowski, who holds over 20 editorial roles in various academic publications, co-founded and serves as a field-chief-editor for the Frontiers in Neuroergonomics scholarly journal due to his interest in this new discipline.

“The field of neuroergonomics is young,” Karwowski says. “We can now better understand brain signatures of daily activities, getting to the core of neural basis of human cognition and its limitations. This is fundamental to understanding human performance at a deeper level.”

Analyzing cognitive feedback to prevent error or fatigue and see where it happens, is crucial in understanding how we work and interact with the world around us, Karwowski says.

“We use knowledge of our neuronal processes to understand our limitations and capabilities for efficient and safe work,” he says. “We must also design systems with these factors in mind.”

A Perfect Fit

Karwowski’s pursuit of improving the human condition through ergonomics research is possible through UCF’s arsenal of resources and ease of access, he says. The university’s commitment to fostering research and interdisciplinary partnerships aligns with his ambitions.

“There are no limits to what you can achieve here at UCF,” he says. “The environment here is conducive to collaboration across departments and colleges. I’ve worked with people from psychology, computer science, sociology, mathematics, business and other engineering departments. It’s very easy to do that here.”

Karwowski joined UCF as a professor in 2007 after working at the University of Louisville. He received his master’s in production management from the Technical University of Wroclaw in Poland and his doctorate in industrial engineering from Texas Tech University.

Karwowski says he felt embraced and guided by his peers when he became chair of UCF’s Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems. UCF professors Charles Reilly, Gavriel Salvendy, CECS Dean Michael Georgiopoulos, and former CECS Dean Marwan Simaan were especially supportive, he says.

“As a new chair, I benefited greatly from Professor Marwan Simaan, my mentor, who helped me adapt to my role as chair,” Karwowski says. “I wanted to continue my development as a researcher and scientist. Thanks to great staff support and talented graduate students, I was able to advance my research while serving as chair. The environment here allows me to mentor many Ph.D. students and continue my research.”

Karwowski, who has advised 60 doctoral students throughout his career, says above all else the mentorship he’s provided young scientists is the most gratifying accomplishment of his career.

“UCF attracts excellent domestic and international students,” Karwowski says. “They are the backbone of education and research. … Our graduate students’ contributions should never be forgotten. They motivate us to excel as we strive to educate them and enable them to gain the knowledge needed to make significant contributions to the world.”

Other current UCF leadership and faculty who have been previously inducted as AAAS fellows include:

  • Peter Delfyett (2022; UCF) College of Optics and Photonics Pegasus Professor and University Distinguished Professor
  • Ronald DeMara (2022; UCF) College of Engineering and Computer Science Pegasus Professor
  • Talat Rahman (2020; UCF) College of Sciences Pegasus Professor, distinguished professor
  • Alexander N. Cartwright (2016; State University of New York)
    UCF President
  • Martin Richardson (2015; UCF) College of Optics and Photonics Pegasus Professor, Northrup Grumman professor
  • Louis Chow (2012; UCF) College of Engineering and Computer Science Professor
  • Peter Hancock (2012; UCF) College of Sciences Pegasus Professor and provost distinguished research professor
  • Zhihua Qu (2012; UCF) College of Engineering and Computer Science Pegasus Professor, Thomas J. Riordan and Herbert C. Towle chair
  • Ni-Bin Chang (2011; UCF) College of Engineering and Computer Science Professor
  • Charles Reilly (2010, UCF) College of Engineering and Computer Science assistant vice provost, professor
  • Debra Reinhart (2009; UCF) College of Engineering and Computer Science Professor Emerita
  • Mubarak Shah (2009; UCF) College of Engineering and Computer Science Trustee chair professor
  • Issa Batarseh (2008; UCF) College of Engineering and Computer Science Pegasus Professor
  • Sudipta Seal (2008; UCF) College of Engineering and Computer Science Chair and professor
  • Al Sattelberger (2002; Los Alamos National Laboratory) College of Sciences Courtesy research scientist
  • Marwan Simaan (1999; University of Pittsburgh) College of Engineering and Computer Science Florida 21st Century chair, distinguished professor