ISyE Welcomes Its Newest Faculty Member

In Fall 2023, the department of Industrial and Systems Engineering welcomed Kathryn Wust as its newestfaculty member. Wust joins the department as an Assistant Teaching Professor, bringing a unique background and expertise in Human Factors Engineering and Ergonomics. She is passionate about designing and improving healthcare systems to optimize patients’ outcomes and well-being, as well as training a new generation of industrial engineers to design systems tailored for people. 

Wust received her Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, and Doctorate degrees in Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Having grown up in Minneapolis, she is happy to return to her home state and join the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, despite remaining an unwavering fan of Bucky the Badger. 

Wust’s research and teaching interests center on Human Factors Engineering and Ergonomics (HFE). The International Ergonomics Association defines HFE as “. . . the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data, and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance” (IEA, 2000). Wust, however, describes HFE as the science of designing for people. Wust details a classic example in HFE that involves a door handle: Imagine walking up to a building, reaching out to pull the door handle, and the door does not open. You look down and notice a sign next to the door handle with the directive to “Push.” You think to yourself, I hope nobody saw me pull on a door that I was supposed to push! If the door had a flat plate, however, the intuitive action would have been to push, saving both time and embarrassment. While simple, the door handle example illustrates how poor design for people can result in suboptimal outcomes. HFE engineers (re)design these “door handles” across various aspects of our lives. 

The specific domain of HFE that Wust specializes in is macroergonomics. Macroergonomics designs sociotechnical systems, such as workplaces, military teams, and construction sites, to operate efficientlyand safely, and to achieve desired outcomes. Her research has focused on macroergonomics in the healthcare system. 

Healthcare is a complex sociotechnical system with interactions between individuals who perform tasks – using tools and technology within a physical environment – under organizational constraints. Interactions between these system elements affect processes, which result in outcomes (e.g. patient safety or clinician burnout). Wust’s research has focused on redesigning emergency departments (EDs) for older adult patients; she has worked on developing a tool to help older adult patients understand what is going to happen to them in the ED (i.e., ED patient journey map), studied how older adults and ED clinicians collaborate during the discharge process, and worked with multidisciplinary and community-based teams to redesign ED discharge instructions to be easier for older adults to use.

Wust’s expertise provides a unique perspective to the ISyE department, as well as contributes to the larger Human Factors community at UMN. Nichole Morris, Director of the HumanFIRST laboratory at UMN and adjunct faculty in ISyE concurs: “I am thrilled to have Prof. Wust join UMN to further strengthen our human factors education and research programs with her unique expertise. The immense demand for human factors professionals will continue to grow across every field where people and systems interact. Having Wust join the UMN faculty will help advance our students to be better prepared to meet industry needs.” 

During her first semester in the department, Wust is teaching classes in project management and systems engineering, where she applies HFE theories and principles to engineering education. Leveraging her research expertise on helping older adults communicate, coordinate, and learn in the ED, she is focusing on helping engineering students do the same in the classroom. She is excited to expand the set of HFE-based courses offered in the department in the future, and to help ISyE students broaden their understanding of what it means to be an industrial and systems engineer for years to come.

Learn more about Kathryn Wust